COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY STUDIES IN ENGLISH
THE POLITICAL PROPHECY
NEW YORK :
LEMCKE & BUECHNER
30-32 WEST 27TH STREET
AMEN CORNER, E.G.
25 RICHMOND STREET, W.
THE POLITICAL PROPHECY
RUPERT TAYLOR, Ph.D.
THE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS
All rights reserved
BY THE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS
Printed from type July, 1911
THE NEW ERA PRINTINC COMPANY
This Monograph has been approved by the Department of Eng
lish in Columbia University as a contribution to knowledge worthy
A. H. THORNDIKE,
TO MY FRIEND,
MR. VICTOR FITCH BONSALL
OF NEW YORK CITY,
THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED.
No study of the political prophecy as a literary form has
hitherto been published. The present work, therefore, opens a
new field for investigation by students of literary history. In
The Political Prophecy in England I have attempted only to
show the general history of the type in England, with some
reference to Continental activity in the same field, and make no
pretense of detailed study. In fact, a thorough study of the
subject is impossible at this time, for available material is too
scanty and the whole field too large. I have, however, em
bodied in the book the results of my investigations in special
subjects, such as the sources for Geoffrey of Monmouth's Book
of Merlin, the date of Adam Davy's Dreams and the person of
Adam Davy himself, and the interpretation of Thomas of
Erceldoune. I do not pretend in any case to have written the
I wish here to express my thanks to Mr. H. F. Schwarz, Dr.
F. A. Patterson, Dr. F. H. Ristine of Columbia University, and
Professor Mabel Buland of the University of Puget Sound for
valuable references given me in the course of my investiga
tions. I wish also to acknowledge my indebtedness to the
librarians of Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Johns
Hopkins, to the Bodley Librarian, to the Comptroller of The
Clarendon Press, and to the authorities of the British Museum
and the Bibliotheque Nationale. I am also indebted to Pro
fessors J. L. Gerig and Raymond Weeks of Columbia Uni
versity, to Mr. Mark Skidmore and to Miss L. Vimont for
assistance in transcribing the old French printed in Appendix
I. Special thanks are due Professor H. M. Ayres who has
kindly advised me during the writing of the book, to Pro
fessor G. P. Krapp with whom I began this work in 1907
and to whom I owe many valuable suggestions, and to Pro
fessor W. W. Lawrence who has been in charge of the investi
gation since 1908. For assistance in reading the proof I am
indebted to Professors Krapp and Lawrence, and to Mr. B. P.
Adams of The Literary Digest. RUPERT TAYLOR.
NEW YORK CITY,
May 15, 1911.
SYNOPSIS OF THE DISSERTATION
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE POLITICAL PROPHECY INTO ENGLAND WITH
GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH'S The Book of Merlin: OTHER POLITICAL
PROPHECIES OF THE TWELFTH CENTURY IN ENGLAND.
I. Statement of the subject scantiness of the material difficulty of
the subject bibliography in a footnote.
II. General definition of the type.
1. It deals with political affairs.
2. It must have literary form this necessity excludes the prophecy
of the Witches in Macbeth and that of Peter of Pomfret.
3. The methods of delivering the prophecies.
1. The Sibyllic type persons are referred to by the
initial letters of their names.
2. The Galfridian.
III. Definition of the Galfridian type date of introduction c. 1135.
1. The peculiar use of animal figures.
a. Explanation and quotation.
b. How the use here differs from the use of similar figures
in the fable and in the allegory.
Here the animal names are mere cloaks or disguises for
real individuals. In the fable the animals are chosen
to typify traits of character common to many men, and
the whole story is told to point a moral In the allegory
the animals are personifications of abstract ideas.
2. Other devices used to obtain obscurity.
Here the second essay of Bridlington, which treats the subject
fully, is discussed.
3. Devices used to induce belief in the authenticity of the proph
a. Actual history is retold as actual prophecy before the
fictitious portion begins.
b. Prophecies were attributed to men of recognized authority
as scholars, such as Bede, Gildas, etc., or to men reputed
to be prophets, such as Merlin or Thomas of Erceldoune.
IV. The Book of Merlin.
i. The original version seems not to be extant Geoffrey seems
to have included much the same material in the Historia
What appears here and what is quoted by Ordericus Vitalis
must serve for the reconstruction.
2. Description of the seventh book of the Historia.
a. The general introduction Cap. I.
b. The dedicatory epistle Cap. II.
c. The prophecies Cap. Ill and IV.
3. These prophecies are really a collection.
a. Geoffrey always uses the plural noun.
b. Repeated motives.
1. The dragon motive three quotations.
2. Mention of other repetitions.
4. The date of The Book of Merlin.
a. Before December 1135 a passage quoted by Ordericus
Vitalis in a chapter of Historia Ecclesiastica written
before that date.
b. Internal evidence.
The last historical event that can be identified is the
sinking of the White Ship danger of interpreting epi
sodes Eagle-of-the-Broken-Covenant passage cannot refer
to the war between Stephen and Matilda because it was
written before the war arose. Caution necessary in the
use of internal evidence thus gained.
5. The Libellus Merlini used by Ordericus was perhaps the original
Book of Merlin how the Libellus differed from the
a. Colors of the dragons interchanged.
b. Minor textual variances.
c. Perhaps furnished with notes or a commentary.
V. Consideration of Geoffrey's sources for The Book of Merlin post
poned to the following chapter in order to discuss the other
prophecies of the same century.
VI. The Vita Merlini.
1. The prophecy of Merlin here is a re-working of material in The
Book of Merlin.
2. The Prophecy of Ganieda. Pure forgery, but written in ac
cordance with the conventions of the type.
VII. Geoffrey of Monmouth's importance in the history of the political
prophecy in England.
1. He introduced the type in The Book of Merlin.
2. He set the example for literary forgery of prophecies Ganieda.
VIII. John of Cornwall's Seven Kings, another version of the same material
as The Book of Merlin but independent of it. Comparison of the
two prophecies. Some original Welsh phrases in the commentary.
IX. The Collection made by Giraldus Cambrensis altogether different
from the material in the Book of Merlin Giraldus claims to have
translated from the Welsh.
THE SOURCES OF The Book of Merlin
I. Warning that the question of the sources of The Book of Merlin
must be kept distinct from the question of the lost * British Book.'
II. The material in The Book of Merlin was new to England political
prophecies in England antedating it.
1. Saints' Visions.
2. The Omen of the Dragons from Nennius.
3. The Vision of Edward the Confessor.
III. The Book of Merlin was not a continuance of local tradition the
source must be sought elsewhere.
1. Brandl's theory that Geoffrey forged.
2. Geoffrey's own statement that he translated from the Welsh.
IV. Refutation of Brandl.
1. Examination of The Book of Daniel and the XV Signa ante
Judicium which Brandl names as models for The Book of
2. Other possible sources.
a. Biblical prophecies cursory treatment to show that there
is little or no resemblance.
b. Classical prophecies the same manner of treatment except
in the case of the Oracula Sibyllina more detailed men
tion because the Sibyllic prophecies are all derived from
c. Early medieval prophecies.
1. Traditional themes growing out of the Oracula Sibyllina.
a. The end of the World.
b. Fifteen Signs before the Judgment.
d. The Last King of Rome.
3. Appearance of the same prophecy in England.
2. Continuance of the Sibyllic tradition in the West the
Prophecy of Sibyl Tiburtina.
3. Animal prophecies preceding The Book of Merlin.
a. The Vision of Childerich.
(> The Anchorite's Vision. W
c. The Vision of the Five Beasts.
3. Conclusion The peculiar characteristics of the Galfridian type
were not affected by the Classical, Biblical, or Sibyllic proph
ecies, though Geoffrey himself must have known a good part
of the material. His refusal to copy it must have been delib
erate. He could at most have got only a suggestion from
the last three prophecies discussed. Such a point would be
difficult to prove. Time to consider the evidence in behalf of
Geoffrey's own statement.
V. Geoffrey's own statement supported.
1. Reasons for not taking Geoffrey's statement unsupported.
a. Reputation for mendacity incurred by the failure of scholars
to find Archdeacon Walter's ' British Book.'
1. Remarks of William of Newburgh in this connection
so far as the prophecies are concerned William admits
that Geoffrey translated from the Welsh real import
of William's remarks shown in a footnote his chief
anger is directed against the Welsh for perpetuating
the Arthurian myths.
2. Although the British Book has not yet been found
scholars no longer insist that Geoffrey forged his
material, but admit that he had some source Geoffrey
not the first to associate Merlin with the Arthurian
story the name Merlino in Italy in the nth century
Godfrey of Viterbo and Geoffrey compared in
2. Evidence in behalf of Geoffrey's statement.
a. External evidence.
1. William of Newburgh.
2. John of Cornwall's independent version of the same
material translated from a Welsh original.
3. Collection made by Giraldus from Welsh originals
shows that similar material existed in Welsh.
b. Internal evidence.
1. Merlin a prophet in Welsh predictive poems.
2. The Cadwalader-Conan episode common to the
Welsh poems and The Book of Merlin.
3. The resemblance between the animal-symbolism in
The Book of Merlin and the animal-epithets of Welsh
poetry. The animal-epithet shown to be as old as
Gildas (details in note). This point is treated in
detail as furnishing very strong evidence.
c. Conclusion the evidence points to Welsh origin.
THE MAJOR MONUMENTS OF THE ENGLISH TRADITION : SCOTTISH, WELSH,
AND IRISH PROPHECIES
I. The Six Kings to follow King John.
1. History 'of the prophecy comes from material in The Book of
Merlin details to be studied in an appendix.
2. The prophecy paraphrased.
II. The Prophecy of John of Bridlington.
1. Authorship unknown, attributed to John of Bridlington.
2. Date (1362-1364) how arrived at internal evidence issue
taken with Thomas Wright.
3. The plan of the prophecy contents of the introductory essays.
4. Conventions observed in writing the prophecy symbols are few
translation of a typical passage.
5. Relation of the poem to other prophecies.
a. caput Martis antedates Bridlington.
b. Earlier prophecies that contain Callus as a symbol for
France or for the King of France.
c. The Cock in the North an adaptation of material taken
from Bridlington with additions.
d. The Prophecy of the Fishes metrical translation of a
long episode from Bridlington.
III. The English Becket.
1. General description seems to be a fragment of a longer poem.
3. The two versions.
4. Relation to the Six Kings at times rather close.
IV. The Erceldoune Cycle.
1. The romantic elements.
2. The prophecies.
3. The traditional material.
4. Relation to other prophecies.
a. The Harleian Erceldoune.
b. The Northumbrian Ballad (no better name).
5. The date of the poem.
Later than ^88 perhaps before August 1400 Brandl's argu
ment to place it 1400 shown to be unsound his interpretation
of the symbols faulty and inconsistent.
6. Authorship unknown.
Note on the real Thomas of Erceldoune no evidence that he
ever produced anything beyond weather predictions issue
taken with Murray.
V. Scottish prophecies.
1. Latin prophecies relating to Scottish affairs.
2. The Whole Prophesie of Scotland, a collection chief attention
a. The Cock in the North Brandl's interpretation unsatisfac
tory mention of the following:
d. The Sibyl.
VI. Brief notice of Welsh prophecy after Geoffrey of Monmouth.
VII. Passing review of Irish prophetic material nothing of importance.
RELATION OF THE PROPHECIES TO POLITICAL EVENTS
I. Wide credence given secular prophecies in the Middle Ages.
II. Close relation of the prophecies to history.
1. The prophecies form a vaticinal chronicle of English history.
2. The prophecies most numerous in times of political crisis.
3. Re-interpretation of old prophecies.
a. Commentary on The Book of Merlin by Alanus de Insulis.
4. Fulfillment of prophecies constantly expected.
5. Enduring power of the prophecies as shown by the Giraldian
Collection (c. 1190-1651).
III. Classification of prophecies according to relation to political affairs.
1. Literary prophecies those written merely as exercises to narrate
history in terms of prophecy and to express the writer's
own feelings, but with no intention of influencing opinion
or the course of events.
a. Geoffrey's Book of Merlin and Prophecy of Ganieda.
b. Earlier versions of the Six Kings.
c. The English Becket, etc.
2. Propagandist prophecies those written with the intention to
influence opinion and to direct the course of events.
a. Mention of prophecies previously discussed.
2. isth century version of Six Kings, etc.
b. Adam Davy's Dreams.
2. Author new material.
3. Date original work issue taken with O. F. Emerson.
c. Ampulla prophecies ascribed to Becket.
d. Prophecies in Lilly's Monarchy or no Monarchy.
IV. Actual influence exerted on political history by prophecies.
1. Direct evidence.
a. The Tripartite Convention.
b. Welsh Rebellion against Henry VIII.
2. Indirect evidence.
a. Testimony of Chroniclers.
b. Laws passed against the dissemination of Prophecies.
1. Two laws by Henry IV.
2. Henry VIII.
3. Edward VI.
c. Violations of these laws two instances discussed.
THE DEVELOPMENT AND THE DECLINE OF THE POLITICAL PROPHECY
I. Change in language used in the prophecies.
1. Earliest prophecies were in Latin, but Latin prophecies were
used even to the end of the sixteenth century.
2. A few prophecies appear in French either translated into
Latin or some English dialect.
3. Prophecies in the vernacular the Here-prophecy as early as
II. Annotations and commentaries on prophecies.
III. Re-writing and re-working of older material.
IV. No particular literary form ever came to be recognized as best
suited to vaticinal expression.
1. Prose prophecies.
2. Verse prophecies various kinds of verse forms used.
V. Change in the use of symbols.
1. Arbitrary symbols in the earlier prophecies the symbols were
chosen arbitrarily perhaps some metaphorical significance at
2. Traditional and conventional symbols originally arbitrary Ed
ward the Second is always the Goat.
3. Heraldic after the rise of heraldry men were frequently spoken
of by the names of the animals that appeared in the coat-
4. Several kinds of symbols may be used in one and the same
prophecy The English Becket, etc.
VI. Prophecies other than the Galfridian in England.
1. Sibyllic Prophecies.
a. H. patre.
The method was never applied in England as on the Continent.
2. Prophecies which show a combination of the Sibyllic and Gal
Six Letters to Save Merrie England.
3. Freak Prophecies.
a. Dice prophecies.
" When six shall up and sink (cinque) shall under."
VII. Change in the narrative style.
1. Purely symbolic prophecies in The Book of Merlin the action
is told entirely by the use of animal symbols.
2. Straightforward narrative with no ambiguity.
b. Pseudo-Greener, etc.
3. Straightforward in parts, symbolic in parts.
The English Becket.
4. Rhetorical prophecies in which the desired amount of ambiguity
and obscurity is gained without recourse to symbols but by the
use of metaphorical, figurative, and highly-colored language.
The Scottish Merlin, as quoted by Lilly.
5. Paradoxical prophecies
6. Prophetic pictures quite a common class.
Lilly's pictures in Monarchy or no Monarchy relation to the
7. Decadent prophecies of the seventeenth century.
William's Prophecy quoted in a note as a fair example of the
VIII. The decadence of the prophecy
1. Growing popularity of astrology which gradually supplanted the
a. Annual prognostications.
2. Adverse legislation previously discussed.
3. Growing freedom from superstition.
4. Opposition on the part of men of influence and scholars.
b. Earl of Northampton.
c. John Spencer.
5. Ridicule of the type by means of parodies and burlesques.
a. Piers Ploughman 2 instances.
b. " When Asses grow Elephants," by Sir John Harington.
c. Shakspere in Lear.
d. Dekker in The Raven's Almanac, etc.
IX. Influence of the type on English Literature.
1. The same method of narration used by Greene in James the
2. Custom of using a man's heraldic emblem for the man.
a. James Howell Fables.
b. Gower in Cronica Tripartita.
d. Spenser, etc.
3. Convention of introducing prophecies into epics borrowed from
a. Spenser Merlin from the Cave in the Faery Queen.
b. Milton Michael from the Mount in Paradise Lost.
X. Summary of main points in the preceding chapters.
1. Geoffrey's importance.
2. Welsh origin of the Galfridian type of prophecy.
3. Major monuments.
4. Historical relations and political influence of the type.
5. The flowering time and causes for the decline.
THE GALFRIDIAN TYPE OF PROPHECY IN OTHER COUNTRIES THAN ENGLAND.
I. The way prepared for Geoffrey by Nennius and the Omen of the
Dragons, and by the early forms of the Arthurian legend.
II. Quotations from The Book of Merlin by Continental writers of i2th
and 1 3th centuries.
v a. Ordericus Vitalis.
b. Geoffrey de Breuil.
c. Alanus de Insulis.
d. Suger, etc.
The evidence is chiefly indirect
a. Great popularity in i3th century points to some knowledge
of the material in the twelfth century.
b. English soldiers of Richard the First's army could easily
have spread the material.
c. Prophetic material known in Provence in twelfth century,
and could easily have crossed into Italy with other
3. Germany and Iceland mention scanty material.
4. Dissemination of the twelfth and thirteenth century manu
scripts some perhaps to these countries as early as the
twelfth century (note).
III. Translation of The Book of Merlin.
1. Iceland Merlinus Spa. i2th century.
2. Indirect evidence for German, Dutch, and Provencal.
3. Waurin's isth century French version in a Chronicle of British
a. Description of contents.
IV. Local prophecies of European countries attributed to Merlin and
written according to the Galfridian conventions.
a. Fragments in chronicles.
b. Richard of Ireland's collection.
c. Echoes in Deschamps' poems.
a. Hugh of Bariol and Peter of Apulia.
c. Miscellaneous i3th century prophecies ascribed to Merlin.
V. Galfridian prophecies on the Continent attributed to other prophets
than Merlin a direct borrowing from England since the
native Continental type was the Sibyllic.
John of Toledo.
a. Prophecies quoted by Deschamps.
b. Profetie d'Orval.
c. Epistre de Sibille.
3. Italy discussion confined to i3th century prophecies because the
wealth of material is embarrassing.
a. Sibyl Erithrea pure Galfridian despite the name detailed
account of the contents.
b. Sibyl Samia.
c. Michael Scotus.
VI. The Continental Collection, ascribed to Merlin contains prophecies
of all kinds that have been described themes belonging to
many collections and to many countries contains material
of the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in
1. Two versions
a. French by Richard of Ireland.
b. Italian of the fourteenth century.
Each Ms. tells a different story Sanesi considers it Italian.
3. Quoted by Robert of Brunne in England.
VII. Interchange of prophetic material.
1. English prophecies known on the Continent and used there.
a. Deschamps Vane pesant.
b. Six Kings.
c. Foreign prophecies dealing with English affairs.
Unicornus de occidentali plaga.
2. Foreign prophecies known in England.
Brief and scanty mention.
VIII. History of the type on the Continent the same phenomena of devel
opment and decline.
1. False attribution professional prophets.
2. Opposition to the prophecies.
a. Decree of the Council of Trent.
b. Laws of Henry the Third of France.
c. Montaigne's Essay on Prognostications.
IX. Popular religious prophecies brief mention two recurrent themes :
1. The Returning Hero who should be a political Savior.
c. Sebastian of Portugal.
2. The Last King of Rome.
THE POLITICAL PROPHECY IN ENGLAND
The introduction of the political prophecy into England with Geoffrey
of Monmouth's Book of Merlin; Other prophecies of the twelfth century
The political prophecy as a type of English literature has
thus far received little attention. Nothing has been written on
the subject as a whole except a few general statements based
on hasty generalizations and insufficient acquaintance with the
material. Passing references to the prophecies are made in the
various manuals and histories of English literature.
Only a few of the prophecies have been edited. 1 Most of
1 The bibliography of the subject is very slight. The following books
and articles exhaust it except for general remarks in manuals of literary
history, and references in various treatises.
A. Brandl, Thomas of Erceldoun, Berlin, 1880.
The Cock in the North. Poetische Weissagung auf Percy Hotspur,
in Sitsungberichte der Konigliche Preussichen Akademie der IVissen-
schaften, Berlin, 1909, pp. 1160-1189.
James A. H. Murray, The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Ercel-
doune, London, 1875, E. E. T. S., 61.
F. J. Furnivall, Adam Davy's Dreams about Edward the Second, London,
1878. E. E. T. S., 69.
J. Rawson Lumby, Some Early Scottish Prophecies, in Bernardus de Cura
rei familiaris, London, 1870. E. E. T. S., 42.
A. Schultz, Die Sagen von Merlin, Halle, 1853; discusses the early
prophecies attributed to Merlin and prints the Vita Merlini.
W. E. Mead, Various Forms of the Merlin Legend, in Merlin, Vol. I,
London, 1899. E. E. T. S., 10, 112.
H. de la Villemarque, Myrdhin, Paris, 1862, discusses the early use of
Welsh prophecies and touches on the question of Merlin as a prophet.
As Villemarque is not very reliable, his statements must be care
Thomas Wright, John of Bridlington, in Political Poems relating to Eng
lish History composed during the period from the accession of Edward
those that have been printed are hidden away in appendices
and notes to other books. The difficulty in the way of a
thorough study of the field and the different monuments lies
in the fact that most of the material necessary for such study is
yet in manuscript form and is inaccessible to many students.
Until this material is carefully sifted and studied in detail it is
unwise to attempt absolute and final pronouncement on any
part of the subject. The purpose of this present study, there
fore, is to set forth the facts as they have been gleaned from
the material available, and to serve as a general introduction
to the whole field.
The term political prophecy needs no explanation as to its
general import. Everyone will understand it as applying to any
expression of thought, written or spoken, in which an attempt
is made to foretell coming events of a political nature. For the
purposes of study from the point of view of literary history,
however, it is necessary that the prophecies be written in some
literary form. This presupposes an existence beyond the
immediate time of composition; for oral prophecies, as a rule,
are given on the spur of the moment, and therefore are tem
porary in that they, concern matters of immediate import, the
outcome of which is near. Such prophecies as that delivered by
Peter of Pomfret do not meet this requirement and therefore
do not enter into consideration here. This requirement, how
ever, does not preclude the oral transmission of written pro
phecies, or the composing of oral prophecies according to the
conventions of the written form. Moreover, the prophecies
when written must observe the ordinary conventions of narra
tive writing; the usual literary political prophecy reads very
the Third to that of Richard the Second, Rolls Series, 2 vols., London,
1859-61, xxix-liv, 123-215.
Ancient Scotch Prophecies, Bannatyne Club Publications, 44, Edinburgh,
1833. Merely a reprint with no editorial comment.
H. L. D. Ward, Catalogue of Romances in the British Museum. Vol. I,
pp. 203-338, contains a description of several prophecies that have
not yet been printed, and has proved of great assistance in the course
of this study.
No mention is made here of those prophecies that have been printed
in notes and appendices to other books without any editorial comment.
Such information is given in the notes as each prophecy is mentioned.
much like history written in the future tense. Accordingly,
the show of kings in Macbeth is not to be regarded as belong
ing properly to this study, for it observes the rules of dramatic
exposition, not of narrative composition. Prophecies, however,
may be quoted by characters in a play; Peele's Edward the
First, for instance, abounds in them.
Literary political prophecies differ very much in the manner
in which the vaticination is delivered. If the events are fore
told simply and directly without any attempt to disguise them
and to make the description obscure, the method may be called
direct. The language may be figurative and obscure, but the
main issue remains clear. This is the usual method of the
Biblical prophecies. An excellent example is Isaiah's prophecy
against Damascus : 2
" Behold Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be
a ruinous heap.
" The Cities of Aroer are forsaken : they shall be for flocks, which
shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid."
But the desire for obscurity and ambiguity frequently leads
to the adoption of certain disguises for the characters in a
prophecy. A vaticinal method in which such devices are used
may be called symbolical. For instance, " The Ass of Wicked
ness shall succeed, swift to fall upon the workers of gold but
slow against the ravening of wolves." 3 Most of the secular
prophecies are symbolical, though the language employed is
itself usually bare of ornament.
The prophetic symbols used are not always the same, and
therein lies another difference. The European prophecies
earlier than the twelfth century use one kind of symbols, the
English prophecies use another. In the European prophecies
the author was content to use only the initials of the characters
with whom he was dealing. This method may be called
Sibyllic, for it first appears in the celebrated Oracula Sibyllina.
2 Isaiah, 17; 1-2.
3 From the Prophecy of Merlin in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia
Regum Brittaniae textual edition, ed. J. A. Giles, London, 1844, p. 124;
most recent translation by Sebastian Evans, Temple Classics, London,
1904, p. 178.
The most distinctive feature of the English method is the use
of animals and birds instead of men and women. An English
prophecy containing this peculiar symbolism reads very much
like some animal story. There is, however, this difference ; the
animals are constantly felt to represent individual men and
women who are never lost sight of behind the mask, even if
their identity is unknown. This amounts, really, ,to little more
than giving animal names to men and women. This vaticinal
method may be called the Galfridian, for it is used extensively
for the first time by Geoffrey of Monmouth in The Book of
Merlin. Other symbols are used in it, but they can best be
observed in the progress of the study.
The reign of Edward the Second is thus described in one of
the prophecies written when the genre was in its most flourish
ing period: 4
"And after this dragone shal come a gote out of a Kar, pat shal haue
homes & berde of siluer : and pere shal come out of his noseprelles a
drop J>at shal bitoken hunger & sorw, & grete dep of pe peple : and miche
of his lande in pe beginning of his regne shal be wastede. This goot shal
go ouer into Fraunce, & shal oppon the floure of lif and of dep. In his
tyme pere shal arise an Egle in Cornewaile pat shal haue feperes of
golde, J>at of pride shal be wipouten pere in all pe lande : and he shal
despise lordes of blode : and after, he shall flee shamefully by a Bere
at Gauersiche : and after shal bene made brigges of men oppon pe costes
of pe see : and stones shal fall f ram castelles, and meny opere tounes
shal bene made pleyne : and a bataile shall bene done uppon an Arme of pe
see in a felde ordeynede as a shelde: and at pat bataile shal dye meny
white hedes : wherf ore pat bataile shal bene callede * pe white bataile.'
And the forsaide Beere shal done pis goote michel harme, and it shal bene
oute of pe Soupwest . . . ; and he (the Goat) shal avenge him oppon
his enemys, prouS conseil of ij oweles, pat ferst shal bene in peril forto
bene undone : but pe olde owel shal wende ouer pe se into a straunge
lande, and pere he shal duelle unto a certayne tyme : and after, he shal
come ageyne into pis lande . . . : and at pe last, pe goot and pe oweles
shullen come atte Bur up Trent, and shullen wende ouer: and for drede, pe
Bere shal flee, and a swan wip him, for his company, to Bur towarde pe North,
& pere pai shal bene wip an harde shoure. And pan pe swan shal bene slayne
wij? sorwe, and pe Beere taken & beheuedede alper nexte his neste, pat
shal (stand) uppon a broken brigge, up wham pe sone shal caste his beemes :
and meny shal him seche, for vertu pat from hym shal come. In pat tyme
*The Brut, E. E. T. S., 131, ed. F. W. D. Brie, London, 1906, vol. I,
P. 73 ^
shal dye, for sorw and care, a peple of his lande, so )?at meny shal bene
oppon him J?e more bolder afterward. And J?o ij owles shullen do miche
harme to }>e forsaide floure of lif, and here shul lede in distresse, so Jat
she shal passe ouer into Fraunce, forto make pees bituene Je gote & J>e
floure delice : and J?ere she shal duelle to a tyme J>at her sede shal come
to seche her : and J?ere J>ai shul bene til a tyme }?at )>ai shul ham clo]?e
wij> grace : and J>ai shul seche the Owelyn, and put ham unto despitous
de]?. And after shal J?is goot bene brougt to disese : and in Crete anguisshe
and sorwe he shal leve al his lif."
This use of animal-symbolism is unique. Animal figures
occur in medieval allegory, such as the Questing Beast in
Malory's La Mort D' Arthur, but they are personifications of
abstract ideas. In the saints' visions fiends and demons fre
quently take the shape of beasts and monsters, and attempt to
frighten the holy men with their hideous shapes and their
terrible howling. Animals occur in the bestiaries and their
supposed natural traits suggest moral reflections. The beast
fable, also, employs animals ; but there the animal, or bird,
represents some type of man, and the story is told to bring out
some truth of human nature. In all there is more or less
tendency to abstractness ; the figures in the beast fable are
individual and concrete enough, but they are used to exemplify
abstractions. In the prophecies every figure is individual and
concrete without any trace of abstractness. The animal name
is but a mask behind which the individual hides incognito.
This concreteness and individuality of each figure is the
peculiar and distinguishing characteristic of the symbolism.
It must not be supposed that the means of prophetic disguise
were limited to a single method. On the contrary numerous
devices were employed. What various tricks were used can
well be realized from the commentator's account of those
employed in the Prophecy of John of Bridlington. Ten
methods in all are recognized, but some seem in large part
repetitions of others. The first is the use of arbitrary names,
by which is meant the adoption of certain arbitrary symbols.
All the examples quoted are animal names. The second is
accidental designation, or the use of names derived from some
incident in the life of the individual referred to or from some
peculiarity in manners, person, name, surname, or arms.
William La Zouche is referred to by the Latin word, susplcor,
and Lord Percy as penetrans. Both instances are merely puns
on the names. The third method the commentator calls equi
vocation, the use of equivoque or ambiguity. For instance, the
word cancer may stand for the crab, for the Sign of the
Zodiac so-named, or, according to the first method, for the
King of Scotland. The fourth is the use of metaphor, as when
ships are spoken of as horses and their rigging as bridles. The
fifth is the use of words made from Roman numerals; letters
which stand for a numerical expression are so combined as to
form words, such as Milvij which stands for ML VII, or Cucull
which stands for CCLXI. The sixth method is etymologised
translation, by which is meant the translation of the component
parts of an English compound word. Thus Herthf ord becomes
terra vada and Mortimer mare mortis. The seventh is the use
of enigma, and can best be understood by quoting. The line, Si
qws taurum, caput amputat, Inde fit aurum (if anyone cuts off
the head of a bull, gold is made thereby) affords an excellent
example. The amputation is not to be performed on the bull
but on the word taurum, and the word aurum results. The
eighth is the division of words, and is fortunately of rare
occurrence, for it only adds to confusion worse confounded.
A word is introduced between the parts of another word that
should follow or precede it. 5 The ninth is the use of ambiguous
words. The tenth is simply abbreviation .
The ten devices just described, all of which are used in The
Prophecy of John of Brldllngton, make up a very elaborate
scheme of prophetic composition. Not all are used at the
same time in the other prophecies. The first, which amounts
to the use of animal names, is most frequently employed. The
other devices are used variously, some in one prophecy, some in
another. The vision machinery is occasionally employed, as in
The Dreams of Adam Davy about Edward the Second, without
these various tricks of disguise and without any ornament of
style save obscurity of language.
Besides the various devices of disguise others were used to
make the prophecies more credible. One of these was a com-
6 Falsus non stabit, Phi et lippus fugitabit. (Bridlington II, v.)
bination of fact and fiction, usually a characteristic of the
more extensive monuments. The writer dated his prophecy
earlier than the real time of composition and retold historical
facts as a part of the genuine prophecy. The greater part of
The Prophecy of John of Bridlington is a truthful account of
historical events and the prophetic part is but a small portion
of the whole. It was expected that the reader, finding the first
part true, would consider the whole inspired and accept the last
part as unquestionable. Furthermore, the prophecies were
sometimes attributed to famous scholars of an older time, as in
the case of Bede and Gildas; to popular saints as those of
Thomas a Becket and John of Bridlington ; or to men already
reputed as prophets, as Merlin and Thomas of Erceldoune.
The same prophecy is frequently attributed to various persons.
Such writing as has just been described was almost unknown
in England before the twelfth century. Some episodes in the
visions of the saints might be termed prophetic, but they were
rarely concerned with political affairs and contained no animal
symbols. St. Cuthbert, it is true, had foreseen in a vision the
death of a king of Denmark. St. Dunstan had uttered a few
prophetic sentences concerning Ethelred the Unready, but
they were of a general nature and foretold no particular event.
Exception to the general statement must be made, however,
in the case of two productions before the twelfth century, the
so-called Vision of Edward the Confessor and The Omen of
The Omen of the Dragons is a part of that mass of fiction that
gathered about the Arthurian story. It belongs more properly
to the Romance of Merlin, and is one of its oldest fragments.
It is first told by Nennius. 6 According to the story, Vortigern
wished to build a tower on Mt. Heremus and got together
material on the spot for it, but on three occasions what had
previously been collected disappeared in one night. The king
was advised by his wise men that before the foundations would
stand, the spot would have to be sprinkled with the blood of a
child born without a father. Messengers sent throughout the
kingdom in search of the prodigy returned with Ambrosius.
8 Nennius, 40-43.
He, however, on learning why he had been brought to the court
told the King that his blood would be useless, and said that he
would explain the phenomenon in another way. With the
King's permission he commanded the pavement to be torn up,
whereupon a pool containing two vases was disclosed. When
the vases were opened a folded tent was discovered, in which
were two sleeping serpents (or dragons), one red, the other
white. The two dragons awoke and began a terrible combat
which ended in the complete rout of the white dragon. Am-
brosius interpreted the white dragon as the Saxons who had
recently been introduced into the country, and the red dragon
as the Britons. The contest between them typified the long
struggle for supremacy between the two peoples, and the
victory of the red dragon meant the final triumph of the
The Vision of Edward the Confessor is not important, but it
must be mentioned here as being an early example of vaticinal
literature in England. It is first found in an anonymous life 7
of Edward the Confessor dedicated to his widow, who died in
1074, and occurs in all the redactions. It purports to have been
delivered to the king by two holy men whom he had known in
Normandy. It runs, " If a green tree is cut in the middle and
the part lopped off is moved three jugera from the stem, when
the part moved away shall of its own accord and without the
aid of any human hand unite itself to the trunk and begin to
flourish and bear fruit, then for the first time can a respite from
such great evils be hoped for." 8
The credit of really introducing the political prophecy into
England belongs to Geoffrey. 9 His three books, The Book of
1 H. R. Luard, Lives of Edward the Confessor, Rolls Series, London,
1858, p. 431-
8 J. H. Ramsey in The Foundations of England, London, 1898, Vol. I,
p. 502, gives an altogether wrong impression of this vision by mistrans
lating, although the Latin on the page of Luard's Lives to which he refers
is plain enough. The Latin is, " tune primum tantorum malorum sperari
poterit remissio," which he translates, " then shall the end be."
9 The known facts of Geoffrey's life are few. He was a nephew and
foster son of Uchtryd, Archdeacon and later Bishop of Llandaff. The
family was Welsh and, through the marriage of Uchtryd's daughter, Ang-
harad, to Jorwerth ap Owen ap Caradoc, Lord of Usk, was connected with
Merlin, the Historia Regum Brittaniae, and the Vita Merlini
are each of great importance in English literature, but only the
first and last concern this study.
The Book of Merlin has not come down to the present day.
Its contents are only to be inferred from the fragments quoted
by Ordericus Vitalis, and from the prophecies as they now
stand in the Plistoria, where they form the seventh book. This
book consists of four chapters : the first is a preface, or prolog,
in which Geoffrey says that he suspended work on the Historia
to make public an edition of Merlin's prophecies, being urged
thereto by Bishop Alexander of Lincoln and others whom he
does not name; the second chapter is a dedicatory epistle to
Bishop Alexander ; the third and fourth contain the prophecies.
Obviously the preface was not a part of the original work, but
the dedicatory epistle was.
The vaticinal matter does not begin at once with the opening
of the third chapter. The Omen of the Dragons had been
begun in the last chapter of the preceding book, but had been
interrupted by the prolog and the epistle. It is resumed at the
point where the dragons awake and begin their combat. The
King requests Merlin to explain the portent of the dragons.
Merlin obeys and gives much the same account as had appeared
one of the princely families. It is conjectured from Geoffrey's signatures
that his father's name was Arthur. His family and his patrons, Bishop
Alexander of Lincoln and Earls Robert and William of Gloucester, all be
longed to the party of the Empress Matilda. His name with that of his
friend, Archdeacon Walter of Oxford, is signed to three documents, the
first in 1129, the others in 1138. His Book of Merlin, as will be shown
later, was produced before December, 1135. The first recension of the
Historia, now lost, was produced as early as 1139. In February, 1152, he
was ordained priest and consecrated Bishop of St. Asaph's. He died at
Llandaff in 1154, apparently without ever entering upon his bishopric. He
was evidently a member of the Norman party among the Welsh. His
family must have been of prominence to have obtained such preferment
as was given him and his uncle. Geoffrey himself was known to men of
power and influence, and may have been in touch with courtly circles.
For the known facts consult Ward, Catalog of Romances, vol. i, p. 203,
and Anglia, XXIV, 383. For a different view as to the early date of the
Historia, consult R. H. Fletcher, Two Notes on the Historia Regum Brit
taniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth in Publications of the Modern Language
Association, Vol. 16, p. 461-474.
in Nennius's version, but he goes further and prophesies the
future of Britain until the end of the world. After a period of
oppression the Britons (the Red Dragon) prevail under the
leadership of 'The Boar of Cornwall' (Arthur). Historical
events, actual or legendary, up to the time of the Norman
Conquest are described briefly and indefinitely, and with little
symbolism. During this period ' the German Worm ' rises
again with the aid of ' the Wolf of the Sea,' religion is ' done
away with,' famines and various misfortunes befall the chosen
until ' he that shall clothe himself in the brazen man ' brings
them assistance, a ' Blessed King ' fits out a navy, a second
period of desolation and a second German invasion follow, and
finally vengeance comes upon the ' German Worm ' for his
treason. Then follows the coming of the Normans, which is
referred to as ' the decimation of Neustria.'
A more detailed account of events begins with the reference
to the Norman Conquest. Thereafter the animal-symbolism,
which had been used sparingly, is the regular form of expres
sion. After William the Conqueror, who is mentioned very
indefinitely, 'two dragons' (William the Second in England,
Robert the Second in Normandy) succeed, of whom one is
slain by the arrow of envy and the other returns under the
shadow of a name. 10 Then the 'Lion of Justice' (Henry the
First) succeeds. The various events of his reign are de
scribed figuratively. After him seems to come a King Sextus,
but there is no preparation for the numbering. 11 He is suc
ceeded by the ' Lynx/ under whom the Normans lose their
power and the kingdom reverts to the descendants of Brute,
the rightful owners. The overthrow of the Norman power is
thus foretold : 12
" Of him (Sextus) shall issue forth the Lynx that seeth through all
things, and shall keep watch to bring about the downfall of his own race,
for through him shall Neustria lose both islands and be despoiled of her
10 Evans, p. 175; Giles, 120-121.
11 " Thence forward from the first unto the fourth, from the fourth unto
the third, from the third unto the second the thumb shal be rolled in oil.
The sixth shall overthrow the walls of Hibernia and change the forests into
a plain." (Evans, 176; Giles, 122.)
12 Evans, p. 176; Giles, 122-123.
ancient dignity. Then shall the men of the country be turned back into
the island for that strife shall be kindled among the foreigners. An old
man, moreover, snowy-white, that sitteth upon a snowy-white horse shall
turn aside the river Periron and with a white wand measure out a mill
thereon. Cadwallader shall call into Conan, and shall receive Albany into
fellowship. Then shall be slaughter among the foreigners: then shall the
rivers run blood : then shall gush forth the fountains of Armorica and shall
be crowned with the diadem of Brutus. Cambria shall be filled with
gladness and the oaks of Cornwall shall wax green. The island shall be
called by the name of Brutus and the name given by the foreigner shall
be done away with."
Much the larger portion of the prophecy follows the passage
just quoted, but, since it defies interpretation and is too long, it
must be passed over here. Attention should be called, however,
to the closing passage, which is very curious. It is a descrip
tion of the end of the world expressed in astrological terms.
A short quotation will suffice to show the character of the
" Stillbon of Arcady shall change his shield, and the helmet of Mars
shall call unto Venus. The helmet of Mars shall cast a shadow, and the
rage of Mercury shall overpass all bounds. Iron Orion shall bare his
sword. Phoebus of the ocean shall torment his clouds. Jupiter shall tres
pass beyond his appointed bounds, and Venus forsake the way that hath
been ordained unto her. The malignity of Saturn the star shall fall upon
the earth with rain of heaven, and shall slay mankind as it were with a
crooked sickle. . . . The tail of the Scorpion shall breed lightnings, and
the Crab fall at strife with the Sun. The Virgin shall forget her maiden
shame, and climb up on the back of the Sagittary. The chariot of the
Moon shall disturb the Zodiac, and the Pleiades shall burst into tears and
These prophecies of Merlin are to be considered as a collec
tion rather than as a continuous whole. A careful reading of
them reveals a repetition of certain motives, each with the
slight variations that are to be expected in contemporary ver
sions of the same material. One that occurs not infrequently
is a combat between a man and a dragon, in which the man
climbs upon the dragon's back and vanquishes it.
" But a giant of iniquity shall arise that shall daunt all by the keenness
of his eyes. Against him shall rise up the dragon of Worcester, and shall
13 Evans, 188; Giles, 129-130.
strive to bring him to naught. And in the battle shall he prevail against
the Dragon, who shall suffer oppression under the wickedness of the con
queror. For he shall mount upon the Dragon, and putting off his garment
shall sit upon him naked. The Dragon shall bear him aloft, and swinging
his tail shall beat him upon his naked body. Then shall the Giant, again
renewing his strength, pierce his gullet with his sword, and at last shall the
Dragon die poisoned, entangled within the coils of his tail. After him shall
succeed the Boar of Totness." 14
Only six lines further begins the confused account of a struggle
seemingly between dragons and men. Towards the close
occurs the same motive: 15
" A fifth shall succeed unto them that are slain, and by various devices
shall break the residue in pieces. Upon the back of one shall he climb
with at sword and sever his head from his body. Then, putting off his
garment, shall he climb upon another and grasp his tail with his right
hand and his left, for naked shall he vanquish him against whom when clad
he might nought prevail. The rest shall he torment and drive them all the
Further a similar motive occurs : 16
" Then shall two follow the sceptre, unto whom shall the horned Dragon
minister. The one shall come in iron, and upon a flying serpent shall he
ride. With his body naked shall he sit upon his back, and with his right
hand shall he lay hold of his tail."
These passages relating to the dragon are all worked into the
context with some appearance of continuity, which may, how
ever, be due to the care either of the original compiler or of
the translator himself. Other recurring motives are the nest
ing of birds, periods of moral depravity, famines, and pestil
ences. Similar groups of related passages are to be found.
For instance, the motive of the tree with the three branches 17
resembles very much in form the motive of the three Fountains
of Winchester, 18 but the details of the two are different.
Certain animal symbols recur as if they are to be applied to the
same person. The ' Ass of Wickedness ' at the end of the third
"Evans, 184; Giles, 127.
16 Evans, 185; Giles, 128.
19 Evans, 186; Giles, 129.
17 Evans, 178; Giles, 123.
18 Evans, 179; Giles, 124.
chapter may also be the ' Ass ' that calls to the ' Goat with the
long Beard ' in the next chapter. The whole body of the pro
phecy is made up of what might be called episodes which vary
in length from one to several sentences. Each episode could
be separated from the context and circulated as an independent
whole with very little loss of meaning. Such separation and
independent circulation did in fact take place, as fragments
quoted not only by writers in England but also by writers in
other countries show. It was of such fragmentary bits that the
original was probably put together.
The date of The Book of Merlin is uncertain. Internal evi
dence, contrary to what one would expect, furnishes little
assistance. At first sight the student is tempted to interpret
portions of the prophecy in terms of his own later knowledge,
to assign a date for them, and to credit Geoffrey with them
because the interpretations fit so well. But one must be on his
guard against such hasty interpretations, for they are frequently
incorrect. For instance, the passage, " Albany shall be moved
unto wrath, and calling unto them that are at her side shall
busy herself in the shedding of blood/' 19 would seem to refer
to the Battle of the Standard, which was fought in 1137. But
such cannot be the case, for this passage occurred in the
original Book of Merlin and, as will be shown later, must have
been written before December, 1135. A passage in the Sextus-
episode, " Two cities shall he robe with two palls," 20 might be
explained as referring to the creation of new bishoprics by
Henry the first, Ely in 1109 and Carlisle in 1133. But the
passage occurs too late in the context to be given such inter
pretation. The last historical event that can be identified with
certainty is the drowning of Henry's children in the disaster
of the White Ship in II2O. 21
19 Evans, 176; Giles, 122. This passage must be a fragment coming down
from the time of William the Conqueror or from earlier conflicts between
the Britons of StrathClyde and the Scots. It cannot belong to the time
of Henry the First, for perfect peace existed between England and Scot
land during his reign.
20 Evans, 176; Giles, 122.
21 " The Lion's whelps shall be transformed into fishes of the sea."
Evans, 175 ; Giles, 122.
The most concrete piece of evidence bearing upon the date
of The Book of Merlin is external. Ordericus Vitalis in his
Historia Ecclesiastic a 22 quotes from a book he calls Libellus
Merlini a long passage which is almost identical with a portion
of the prophecies as they stand in the Historia of Geoffrey.
The chapter in which this long quotation occurs must have
been written before the death of Henry the First in December,
1135, for it contains a reference to him as being King of Eng
land. The Libellus Merlini, or The Book of Merlin, must
therefore have been written after 1120 and before the end of
1135. It is presumed to have been an edition of the proph
ecies alone. Its size may be surmised from the fact that
the part quoted covers in the text of the Historia a page and a
half octavo, 23 and is called by Ordericus "brief extracts from
Merlin's book." The quotation begins with the coming of the
Normans, "A people in wood, and jerkins of iron," and ends
with the accession of the ' Lynx,' who is called 'The Pest'
because of a manuscript reading lues for lynx.
The Libellus Merlini from which Ordericus quoted evi
dently differed somewhat from the version of the prophecies
in the Historia. It seems to have been provided with a com
mentary, or interpretation, at least for some passages, echoes
of which occur in Ordericus's application of the ' Decimation
of Neustria ' to the massacre of Prince Alfred and his attend
ants at Guilford, and in the explanation given for the passage,
" Two dragons shall succeed." These interpretations may,
however, be original with Ordericus; for at the close of the
chapter he says that he does not intend writing a commentary
on Merlin, but that he could if he chose. The Libellus may
have begun with the Omen of the Dragons, as this story is told
in indirect discourse by Ordericus immediately before he quotes
directly from the prophecies. The fact that Ordericus changes
the colors of the dragons shows that he was not quoting from
Nennius, to whose work he had referred the reader in the pre
ceding paragraph. His original, however, was closer to the
version of Nennius than that which is found in the Historia,
22 Historia Ecclesiastica, Book 12, cap. 57.
23 Giles, 121-122.
for Ordericus frequently uses the same words as occur in
Nennius's account but which are not found in the Historic.
The lynx-lues difference between the Libellus and the Historia
has been mentioned. Other differences occur, but they are of
minor importance. The passage, " Woe unto thee, Neustria,
for the brain of the Lion shall be poured upon thee," is
omitted, 24 but it is a late interpolation in the Historia.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's third book, the Vita Merlmi, 25 is
important in this study for two prophecies it contains, one
delivered by Merlin, the other by Ganieda. It deals with the
life of Merlin and contains details so different from those
given in the Historia that legends of two Merlins arose, one
the Ambrosius Merlin of the Historia, the other Merlin
Silvester, or Caledonicus. All this is very interesting and
important in the history of the Merlin Romance, but the
Romance is not the subject of this study. Details relating to
it must, therefore, be omitted.
The prophecy of Merlin in the Vita covers the period from
the reign of Maelgwyn past Geoffrey's own time into the
reign of Sextus and stops where the most symbolic part of
The Book of Merlin begins. 26 For the ground covered it goes
into greater detail than the earlier prophecy, but contains few
animal symbols. Some symbols are common to both prophecies,
such as the 'Boar of Cornwall' and the 'Wolf of the Sea.'
There is also occasional repetition of motives, such as the
girdling of men with the teeth of animals. Much of the proph
ecy is merely veiled allusion, and could have been composed
by Geoffrey himself. There is apparently more reflection of
actual history in the passages referring to the attacks of the
24 This passage refers to the embalming of Henry the First's body.
Evans, 175; Giles, 122.
26 For a discussion of the authorship, which has been disputed, see Ward,
loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 278. This new work is dedicated to Robert de Chesney,
Bishop of Lincoln after the death of Geoffrey's former patron, Bishop
Alexander. After the death of his earlier patrons Geoffrey needed a new
one, and chose one in touch with the court of Stephen.
28 Line 581 to line 680. Geoffrey may have stopped here from pruden
tial motives, for by doing so he omitted the prophecy on the overthrow
of the Normans.
Scots on the Britons, to the destruction of the cities, and to
the assumption of arms by prelates. But beyond this closer
relation to history there is nothing of real importance in it so
far as the history of the type is concerned. It does not profess
to be a translation of another Welsh version of the material,
and there is no reason to consider it as such. It is perhaps only
a re-working of old material by Geoffrey himself with some
additions and interpolations of vaticinal fragments not con
tained in the Book of Merlin.
The Prophecy of Ganieda 27 though shorter, is much the
more important of the two so far as the history of the genre
is concerried. In it actual history is written as prophecy in
accordance with the conventions of the Galfridian type. The
events described occurred in the war between Matilda and
Stephen. Two * Lions/ two ' Moons/ and an ' Armorican
Boar ' wage one battle ; another is fought between ' Stars ' and
' Wild Beasts/ This application of the Galfridian conventions
to actual history purely as a literary exercise, independent of
any real prophecy, is an early modification of the original type.
It set an example that was frequently followed in the succeed
Shortly after the death of Geoffrey of Monmouth there
appeared another version of the same material which he had
used in The Book of Merlin. This was The Prophecy of
Ambrosius Merlin concerning the Seven Kings, 28 a Latin poem
in one hundred and thirty-nine hexameters accompanied with
a dedicatory epistle to Robert de Warelwast, bishop of Exeter,
at whose request the poem was written. It purports to be a
literal translation from the Welsh. Several Welsh place-names
and phrases are quoted in the accompanying commentary; in
three places 29 they seem to have stood in the original. In the
commentary references are made to historical events up to the
accession of Henry the Second in December, 1154, after an
interregnum of six weeks, which is also referred to in the
27 Line 1474 to line 1518.
28 Printed, Carl Greith, Spicilegium Vatlcanum, Frauenfeld, 1838, p. 99 f;
also, Viilemarque, Myrdhin, p. 417.
29 Lines 18, 65, 92.
seventieth line of the poem. The reference in the commentary
to Prince William, Henry's oldest son, helps to fix the date as
1155, for the child died in the early months of 1156. The trans-
lation is attributed, in the dedicatory epistle, to John of Corn
wall, a rather prominent scholar of the time, who was credited
with a knowledge of Welsh. 30
The author passes over the history of the island before the
Norman Conquest, saying, in his dedication, that this earlier
material can be found well set forth elsewhere. He begins his
poem with the coming of the Normans and ends it with their
expulsion and the restoration of the Welsh. Between these
limits the material is much the same as in The Book of Merlin.
The same symbols are used in both except the ' Boar ' for
Henry the Second, a symbol not used by Geoffrey. At first
glance there seems little difference between the two versions,
for they cover the same ground and use practically the same
material, but a careful comparison of them shows certain
In The Book of Merlin the prophecy is pure narrative; in
The Seven Kings it is in the form of question and answer. 31
There is a bare suggestion of this in the Vita Merlini where
Merlin delivers his prophecy in response to a question from
Ganieda. The narrative portion of The Seven Kings is fre
quently interrupted by apostrophes, addresses, and ejaculations
expressive of personal emotion and interest in the events nar
rated, as, for instance, the lengthy address to Cornwall as
Domus Arturi. 32 In fact, the poem begins with an address to
the Saxons as Eurus and a prophecy against them in the second
person. In the poem, also, the number of years is given for the
30 See the article on John of Cornwall, Dictionary of National Biography,
1892, vol. 29, p. 435.
31 There are six of these questions coming at unequal intervals, (a) Line
10. Instaurans nostros princeps quot vixerit annosf, asked to determine the
length of William the First's reign, (b) Line 52. Tune vides pecoris
raptus per plana Reontisf Sed quid ages contra? (c) Line 64. Quae sua
conditiof quae spes in semine nostrof (d) Line 91. Et quid tarn sero
fatali pendere castro? (e) Line 108. Haec ferit, ipsa facit, cur Neustria
segnius hausitf These questions aid, in one way or another, in carrying
forward the narrative.
33 Beginning with line 51.
reign of each of the first four kings, but Stephen is allowed
two years too many. After Stephen the years are not given for
any reign. 33 The prophet in The Seven Kings continually
identifies himself with the Welsh, and frequently uses such
adjectives as "our" and such expressions as "our people" in
referring to the Welsh. There is nothing of all this in The
Book of Merlin.
There is a further difference, also, in the wording and
arrangement of the material. As a rule, the sense of the two
versions is the same, but the phraseology is different. The
sinking of the White Ship is a good instance. Geoffrey's Latin
for this episode reads,
Catuli leonis in aequoreos pisces transformabuntur**
John renders this same episode in this fashion,
et Catulos Albania luget ademptos.
Heu! pelagi f acinus quod tertius extulit annus. 55
Similar differences are to be found throughout the two
translations. John of Cornwall's rendering frequently seems to
be the clearer ; as for example in the ' Eagle of the Broken
Covenant ' passage. In the Book of Merlin this reads : " This
(a bridlebit, not mentioned by John) shall the Eagle of the
Broken Covenant gild over and the Eagle shall rejoice in her
third nesting." According to The Seven Kings the passage
should read, "The Broken Covenant (lex) will call the Eagle
with the Cub into anger." The Eagle's third nesting is not
mentioned until fifteen lines later. Other divergences in favor
of greater clearness are to be found in John's version. It is
useless to go further into these details in this place. It is
sufficient to point out some typical differences characteristic
Details which remain the same in the two versions are fre-
33 This would indicate that the original was put together early in
Stephen's reign, and that the reference to Henry's accession was a later
addition made without changing the number of the years allotted to
3 * Giles, 122.
35 Lines 31-32.
quently shifted in their order; as for example the events
recounted as occurring during the reign of the Lion of Justice
(Henry the First). According to Geoffrey the account runs: 36
" The Lion of Justice shall succeed at whose roaring the towers and
dragons of the island shall tremble. In those days gold shall be wrung
forth from the lily and the nettle, and silver shall flow from the hooves
of them that low. They that go crisped and curled shall be clad in
fleeces of many colors, and the garment without shall betoken that which
is within. The feet of them that bark shall be cropped short. The wild
deer shall have peace, but humanity shall suffer dole. The shape of com
merce shall be cloven in twain : the half shall be round. The ravening
of kites shall perish and the teeth of wolves shall be blunted. The Lion's
whelps shall be transformed into fishes of the sea, and his Eagle shall
build her nest upon mount Aravius. Venedotia shall be red with mother's
blood and six brethren shall the house of Corineus slay. The island shall
be filled with nightly tears. . . ."
This is rendered by John of Cornwall thus : 37
" But the Lion of Justice restrains the talons of kites and the teeth of
wolves, and makes woodlands and harbors safe everywhere. Whenever he
roars, the towers which the Sequana washes, and each island of dragons
tremble even under the ocean. Then he who is crisped shall put on cloaks
of various colors, and the garment shall not protect the misdeed of a
changeable mind. Then gold shall be wrung from the narcissus and the
thorn, and shall flow from the horns of the flocks. Therefore, willingly
or not, the barker makes peace with the deer on penalty of a lopped foot.
The image of the nummus is cut : then also succeeds the shape of the
round half. Then the renowned bird (elsewhere the Eagle) makes her
nest upon Aravius and Albany grieves for the lost cubs. Alas the villainy
of the sea which the third year brought forth ! He was famous whom it
moves not with its threefold wildness. In the six Frenchmen, the blood
of one mother, the Throne (of Arthur, Cornwall), sadly red, bewails so
many deaths, so many misfortunes and says, ' Normandy, do you know what
is being done ? Lately I grieved, lately I poured out my vitals. With these
miseries you solaced our misfortunes. Island, you are drenched in tears.' "
The Seven Kings contains within the same limits more
material than The Book of Merlin. The two versions are
practically the same to the end of the passages quoted. Then in
The Book of Merlin come the episodes of the ' newcomers,' ' he
who possesses through impiety/ ' the awakening of Albany to
38 Evans, 175; Giles, 121 f.
37 Line 1 7 f.
wrath/ 'the forging of the bridlebit/ and 'the Eagle of the
Broken Covenant/ all of which is covered in The Seven Kings
in three lines. In both versions the war against the Bulls
follows. After this episode John of Cornwall introduced
thirteen lines referring to Welsh affairs that are not mentioned
by Geoffrey. This interpolation is followed by the episode of
' the helmeted one ' which had preceded the ' Broken Covenant '
in The Book of Merlin. Then comes the confusion of the
numbers which Geoffrey put immediately after the war against
the Bulls. Another interpolation of sixteen lines intervenes
before the episode of Sextus which had followed the numbers
in The Book of Merlin. The achievements of Sextus agree in
both, but The Seven Kings contains the fuller account of them.
In both Sextus is succeeded by the Lynx and the downfall of
the Normans. John barely mentions the Lynx, but describes
at more length the expulsion of the foreigners.
John of Cornwall was not versifying Geoffrey's book. There
is no instance of his taking a phrase from The Book of Merlin.
His interpretations and renderings of many passages differ
very much from Geoffrey's. This could be accounted for only
by the supposition of forgery on his part. But his standing in
his own time and his reputation for a knowledge of Welsh
forbid the imputation. It is assumed on the strength of his
own statement that he had a Welsh original. It is certain that
his poem contains more references to contemporary Welsh
prophecies than The Book of Merlin. The Cadwallader-Conan
episode is common. The mention of events occurring at the
Theivi and at Reon in connection with the coming of Cad-
wallader and Conan 38 brings the poem into relation with the
Afallenau, the Hoianau, and the Kyvoesi Myrdin, all Welsh
predictive poems of the same century. 39 The three hundred
and sixty-three years, spoken of at the end of the poem as the
golden age of Welsh liberty, seem to correspond to the three
hundred and three years assigned Cadwallader in the Kyvoesi
Myrdin. None of these poems, however, is the original of
38 Lines 118-120.
39 See these poems in W. F. Skene, The Four Ancient Books of Wales,
this version. But the evidence got from all indicates the exist
ence of some common material which was used freely in vari
ous poems with other material peculiar to each poem.
There are indications of yet another twelfth century collec
tion of prophecies, if Giraldus Cambrensis is to be trusted.
Giraldus was greatly interested in political prophecies and
quoted them at every opportunity. He even proposed making
the third book of the Expugnatio Hibernica a collection of
them. He says in his preface to this book that prophecies attri
buted to Merlin Silvester, or Caledonicus, were sung by Welsh
bards ; but that he had difficulty in obtaining them, because
they were rarely committed to writing. However he found a
copy of them at Nevin on the West coast of Carnarvonshire
during the itinerary through Wales with Archbishop Baldwin
in 1 1 88. Henry the Second seems to have shared his interest
and to have encouraged him in his work. The collection found
at Nevin was greatly corrupted by interpolations, additions, and
adaptations made by the bards. Giraldus called Welsh scholars
to his aid and sought to free the text from corruptions, but he
was not entirely successful, if he does interpret one fragment
correctly as applying to Becket. This may, however, be an old
prophecy that had been revived and warped to the desired
interpretation. Martyrs lived and) died in the British Isles
before Thomas a Becket defied his King.
A collection of prophecies under the name of Merlin Sil
vester, or Caledonicus, and sometimes called The Prophecy of
the Eagle, is found in several manuscripts of the thirteenth
century. 40 Three of the episodes contained in it are quoted by
Giraldus and referred to Merlin Silvester. 41 Two more are
quoted on the authority of Melingus Hibernicus. Ward sug
gested that this collection was compounded of sentences from
the Expugnatio, but granted that the case may have been the
reverse. The latter seems more likely, since the two collections,
which appear in the manuscript as one, both refer to events
40 Printed in A. Schultz's edition of the Historia, 1854, P- 4^3, as a note
to chapter 18 of book 12.
41 See the discussion in Warde, loc. cit., vol. I, p. 293 f. Giraldus after
quoting these fragments says that they are to appear in the vaticinal book.
of the twelfth century and were most probably put together
before 1200. Furthermore, the collection contains three lines
of the Here Prophecy* 2 which can be dated approximately
1190. There is no proof that it is the collection made by
Giraldus, but hereafter, since old names were frequently
applied to new material after 1200, it will be called the
Giraldian Collection for the sake of clearness.
The first part of this Giraldian Collection is short and little
more than a succession of vatic symbols. The invasion of Ire
land and Henry the Second's quarrels with his children are
43 Zan zu seches in here hert yreret,
Zan sulen Hengles in }>re be ydeled
Zat ban sale into Hyrlande alto lade waya ;
Zat hozer in to Poile mid pride bileve ;
Ze thirde in harye haughen hert all ... ydreghen.
(Benedict of Peterborough, Chronicle of the Reigns of Henry II and Rich
ard I, ed. Win. Stubbs, Rolls Series, 2 vols., London, 1867, vol. 2, p. 139.)
This prophecy was said to have been found written on tablets of stone
and erected on a house at Here given Ralph Fitz Stephen by Henry the
Second. Roger of Hoveden (translation by H. T. Riley, 2 vols., London,
1853, vol. 2, p. 170) quotes the same prophecy and reads wreke for the
lacuna in the last line.
The last three lines are identical with the last three clauses of an episode
in the Giraldian Collection, which runs thus :
"In ultimis diebus albi drachonis semen jus trifarium spergetur, pars in
Apuliam tendens orientali gaza locupletabitur, pars in Yberniam descendens
occidua temperie delectabitur, pars vero in patria permanens vilis et inanis
The identity of the two cannot be doubted.
The English version is written as verse, but it neither rhymes nor allit
erates. It would seem therefore a line for line translation of verse in some
other language. The three Latin clauses in the episode quoted seem
metrical, and doubtless belonged to the original. If placed metrically they
"Pars in Apuliam tendens orientali gaza locupletabitur
Pars in Yberniam descendens occidua temperie delectabitur
Pars in patria permanens vilis et inanis reputabitur."
Even this arrangement presents some difficulties, for the lines do not agree
in the" position of the accents and are clearly not written in a quantitative
meter. They seem, however, to contain a detritus of a former metrical
form. A close study of the various manuscripts might reveal a more
almost the only historical details. Geoffrey's Lynx is men
tioned in it The Lion may also represent Geoffrey's Lion of
Justice, for it seems to stand for Henry the First. The Boar is
used for Henry the Second as in The Seven Kings. With these
exceptions the prophecy is independent of the others. The
other symbols are a sombre dragon, a ram with delicate fleece,
a kinglet, a sea-crab, the whirlwind that overthrows Ireland,
a Fifth whose chariot is rolled into the place of the Fourth, a
fiery ball from Eurus, and a spark from this ball. Some of
the prophecy can be interpreted in terms of actual history, but
the possibility of such interpretation does not prove it written
after the events it seems to narrate. The danger of such a
conclusion has been pointed out in the study of The Book of
Merlin. The conquest of Ireland is not described any more
definitely than in the 1135 announcement concerning Sextus.
The prophecy is best considered genuine, so far as indepen
dence of actual history is concerned, with interpolations con
cerning Henry the Second's family dissensions.
The second part of The Giraldian Collection is also short. It
covers the reign of Stephen and is chiefly concerned with the
wars between him and the opposing faction of the empress
Matilda and her son. The prophecy begins with the succession
of the albus rex et nobilis <in Brittania (Stephen) after the
death of the Lion of Justice and ends with the accession of the
Eagle's Chick (pullus Aquilae, Henry the Second). The Lion
of Justice and the Eagle's Chick are perhaps echoes of The
Book of Merlin in which the Lion of Justice was used for
Henry the First and the Eagle in two places where it can be
interpreted as the Empress. This prophecy seems to have been
made after the events described had taken place. It is, there
fore, important as showing how early the conventions of the
form were used with original material without the necessity of
translating from the Welsh. It also shows that symbols which
had become traditional, such as the Conquest of Ireland and the
use of the Eagle for Matilda, were used as common property
by any one who wished to treat them so.
This chapter has shown that at some time between the
years 1120 and 1135 Geoffrey of Monmouth produced The
Book of Merlin and thereby introduced into England a new
type of literature. In 1156 another version of the same
material was made by John of Cornwall. In 1188 Giraldus
Cambrensis found on the West coast of Wales an altogether
different collection of prophecies attributed to Merlin Silvester,
or Caledonicus, who had become distinguished from Ambrosius
Merlin of The Book of Merlin and of the Histona. The testi
mony of Giraldus shows that prophecies attributed to Merlin
were common in Wales and that they were sung by the bards,
who corrupted them greatly. Geoffrey, John, and Giraldus, all
professed to translate from the original Welsh, and each spoke
of the difficulty he encountered in his work. Geoffrey and John
undertook to translate at the bidding of learned and cultivated
bishops. Giraldus was encouraged by Henry the Second him
self. Material so introduced could scarcely have failed to
become popular. By the end of the thirteenth century political
prophecies had struck deep root in England, and, as later
chapters will show, the Galfridian type, which had originated
in England, had spread to other countries.
The importance of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the history of
the political prophecy in England cannot escape notice. Al
though he did not originate his material, yet the credit for
making it accessible to England and to the Continent is due
him. Furthermore, by The Prophecy of Ganieda he set the
example for the creation of new prophecies from new material
but written according to the conventions of the prophecy as
found in The Book of Merlin. Attention must now be turned
to the question of the origin of the type, which was postponed
in this chapter. It will therefore be discussed in the next
THE SOURCE OF The Book of Merlin
The source of The Book of Merlin has never been deter
mined Two theories in regard to the matter are possible;
either that Geoffrey forged the prophecies himself, or that he
told the truth in saying that he translated them. Scholars and
critics who doubted the veracity of Geoffrey's remarks about
' the lost British book ' carried their skepticism so far as to
disbelieve his oath in regard to the prophecies. Professor
Brandl 1 does not allow the existence of any original, but says
that Geoffrey forged them with The Book of Daniel and The
Fifteen Signs before the Judgment as models. Since this
opinion was first expressed, no one has controverted it. But a
careful comparison of these with The Book of Merlin leads one
to believe that Professor Brandl wrote from general impres
sions rather than from any accurate information gained by
special investigation of the subject.
It has been shown that the peculiar feature of The Book of
Merlin is the use of animal figures to represent living individ
uals. Whatever likeness there is between Geoffrey's work and
The Book of Daniel consists in the use of symbols that seem to
resemble each other. But the likeness ends here, for the
figures used in the two prophecies are really dissimilar. Pro
fessor Brandl failed to discriminate between them before he
delivered his opinion. In The Book of Daniel the animals are
all monsters. They represent not individuals but nations, and
are therefore abstractions. For instance, the ram and the he-
goat in the eighth chapter represent the Persian Empire and
the Empire of Alexander the Great respectively. The four
horns that rise on the head of the goat in the place of the single
horn stand for the four kingdoms founded on the ruins of
Alexander's Empire. The little horn that sprouts from one of
1 A. Brandl in Paul's Grundriss, Strassburg, 1893, 2; i; 621.
them represents a king of one of the four. In The Book of
Merlin the animals are not monsters, however much their
behavior may differ from that of real animals. They are not
abstract ideas personified, but, on the contrary, representations
of actual individuals.
As for the legend of The Fifteen Signs before the Judgment,
no resemblance between it and The Book of Merlin can be
found. The only part of The Book of Merlin that contains
anything but the characteristic animal-symbolism is the close,
which has been quoted from. It is an astrological description
of astronomical phenomena to occur at the end of the world,
and can fulfill only one Sign, the disorders in the Heavens.
The drought mentioned at the beginning of the passage and the
resurrection of the dead at the close answer to two other signs,
but they can scarcely be considered results of any influence, for
they were commonplaces of medieval theology, and as they
stand in The Book of Merlin are episodes too insignificant to
count. The rising of the sea above the mountains, the sinking
of the sea from sight, the return of the sea to its original level,
the congregations of the sea-animals, the warring of the rocks
together, the earthquake, the levelling of the hills, the madness
of men, the return of the saints, the birth of children with gray
hair, the coming of Anti-Christ, the dripping of blood from
trees and shrubs, all of which occur in one or another form of
the legend, 2 are not mentioned, referred to, or even alluded to in
any way in The Book of Merlin. Geoffrey did not forge The
Book of Merlin with The Fifteen Signs before the Judgment
as a model.
It may be argued that if Geoffrey did not use The Book of
Daniel and The Fifteen Signs before the Judgment, he may
have drawn from the large body of vaticinal literature that had
3 The various forms of the legend are shown in the following discussions
of it : (a) H. E. Sandison, Quindecim Signa ante Indicium, Herrig's Archiv,
New Series, Vol. XXIV, p. 73 f., Brunswick, 1910. (b) G. Nolle, Die
Legende von den fiinfzehn Zeichen vor dem jungsten Gerichte, Beitrage zur
Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache und Literatur, Vol. VI, Halle, 1879,
p. 413 f. (c) G. Grau, Quellen und Verwandtschaften der dlteren German-
ischen Darstellung des jiingsten Gerichtes, Morsbach's Studien zur Eng-
lischen Philologie, XXXI, Halle, 1908.
preceded him. This consists of the Biblical, the classical, and
the early medieval prophecies. A careful investigation of it,
however, reveals as little influence on The Book of Merlin as
those just discussed.
The average reader would undoubtedly think first of the
Biblical prophecies as those most likely to be imitated by one
wishing to forge a prophecy. Professor Brandl thought first
of The Book of Daniel because animal figures appear in it.
Other books of the Bible which might occur to one for a similar
reason, or because they use some kind of symbolism that
impresses the mind of the reader for its obscurity, are Isaiah,
Ezekiel, and the Apocalypse. In the books of Jeremiah, Hosea
and the so-called Minor Prophets the vaticinal method is that
of simple and direct statement, although the language is fre
quently figurative and ornate. This method is not wanting in
the three first named. In The Book of Isaiah the symbolism
consists chiefly of allegory and parable. A good instance is
the description of God's wrath against the Israelites and his
purpose in regard to them, as set forth in the parable of the
vineyard that produced only wild grapes. 3 Animal names
occur in the allegory which tells of the peace that shall attend
the advent of Christ, but they are used as metaphors; they
can in no sense be considered as prophetic symbols. 4 What is
true of The Book of Isaiah is true of The Book of Ezekiel, but
the latter contains allegorical visions also. However, the same
dearth of animal figures used as prophetic symbols is notice
able. In one passage Pharaoh is called ' The Great Dragon/
but the name is only a metaphorical epithet. 5
In The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine the prophecy is in
the form of a vision. Besides the material that is purely pro
phetic the book contains preaching against heresy and an exhor
tation to repentance. In the vision itself are many angels
3 Isaiah, V; 5-6.
* " The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down
with the kid : and the calf and the young lion and the f atling together : and
the lion shall eat straw like an ox." (Isaiah, XI ; 6.)
5 " Behold I am against thee, Pharaoh, King of Egypt, the great dragon
that lieth in the midst of his rivers which hath said, My river is mine own
and I have made it for myself." (Ezekiel, XXIX; 3.)
passing to and fro on various missions, a black sun, a red moon,
falling stars, an earthquake, and monsters in abundance. These
monsters include locusts that looked like horses prepared for
battle, having hair of women, teeth of lions, and tails of
scorpions each with a sting : a red dragon with seven heads and
ten horns, each head crowned: a beast of the sea with seven
heads and ten horns, each horn crowned : and a beast with two
horns of a lamb speaking as a dragon. In the sixth chapter in
connection with the opening of the seals, four horses are
described naturally, but they are allegorical personifications
respectively of Conquest, Riot, Justice, and Death. 6
This discussion of Biblical prophecies should be sufficient to
show wherein they differ from The Book of Merlin. Both use
animal-symbolism, but in the former the animals, when used,
are monstrous personifications 6f abstractions; in the latter
they are life-like and represent individuals.
The vaticinal literature of Greece and Rome is of slight
extent, perhaps because of the great attention each country
gave to the various kinds of divination. It is composed largely
of oracles given by different deities or by persons supposedly
endowed with prophetic insight. Geoffrey of Monmouth could
have known very little of it, and if he had known the whole
body, he could have got very little help from it. In Rome this
literature consisted of the famous Sibylline Books, the Carmina
Marciana,, the Oracles of Begoe, and the Books of Veil. Of the
last two nothing is known but the name. The Sibylline Books,
as far as can be judged from the few extant fragments, were
chiefly admonitions to adopt certain rituals to expiate some evil
or to avert some threatened calamity. The Carmina Marciana
were only vague and indefinite warnings that contained no
symbolism. The Greek Oracles of the classical period were
usually very short and direct. They were frequently evasive,
6 What has been said of the orthodox books of the Bible is also true of
the apocryphal books. They contain nothing that could have helped Geof
frey. The Book of Esdras is typical. " But if the Most High grant thee to
live, thou shalt see that which is after the third kingdom to be troubled :
and the sun shall suddenly shine forth in the night and the moon in the
day: and blood shall drop out of the wood." (Esdras II, v; 4.) Monsters
similar to those in The Apocalypse are also found in this book.
misleading, or deliberately enigmatic, but contained little
symbolism. Such was the doubtful assurance given Croesus
that if he crossed the Halys he would put an end to a great
kingdom. Another typical oracle is that given the same
Croesus bidding him flee when a mule should become king of
the Persians, which was fulfilled in Cyrus the Great, the son
of a Persian father by a Mede mother. 7
One collection of Greek Oracles 8 deserves some detailed
mention, not because of any influence it exerted on Geoffrey of
Monmouth, but because it is the source of the kind of prophetic
writing which was most popular in his day and which he would
T These prophecies or oracles are as a rule very short and do not attempt
to foretell a long sequence of events in the future. Occasionally bits of
symbolism are to be found, but they are usually to be explained as puns.
A good example is that recorded by Herodotus relating to Cypselus, the
tyrant of Corinth :
" An eagle will nest in rocks and bring forth a strong and brutal lion
and he will knock the knees from many. Now be advised in these matters,
ye Corinthians who dwell about the beautiful Peirene and towering
Corinth." (Herodotus, V, 92.)
The pun is on the word aietos, meaning eagle, and Aetion the father of
Cypselus. Lion is rather a metaphor than a prophetic symbol. A similar
oracle, attributed to Phaennos, tells of the victory won by Attalus, King
of Pergamus, over the Gauls in 270 B.C. In it Attalus is spoken of as
descended from the illustrious race of the bull, but Tauros, bull, seems to
have been the usual cognomen of the family.
Another oracle of Phaennos addressed to Lysimachus, King of Thrace,
contains a bit of symbolism not so easily explained :
" O King of the Thracians, you will receive a city among flocks. You
will raise to honor a great and dangerous lion who will at some time stir
the fatherland to its foundations: he will take the land without trouble.
And I say that you shall not be made glorious by the sceptral honors,
but that you shall fall from the king's estate when dogs surround you.
You will arouse a terrible sleeping wolf. He will not willingly put his
neck beneath the yoke. Then the wolves of Bithynia will inhabit the land
according to the foreordinance of Zeus. ... So the law of the gods com
mands when a fierce wolf will undergo the hard yoke of fate."
The lion and the wolf of this prophecy have both been identified as
Seleucus, King of Syria, but the interpretation is doubtful after the very
8 For a detailed discussion of vaticination in Greece and Rome consult
A. Bouche-Leclerc, Histoire de la Divination dans I'Antiquite, Paris,
1882, 4 vols.
probably have adopted had he been in search of a model. They
are the so-called Oracula Sibyllina. As the collection stands
to-day, it consists of a Proemium and twelve books numbering
from one to eight and from eleven to fourteen inclusively. 9
It was begun, apparently, by a nameless Alexandrian Jew in
the second century B.C. during the wars of Antiochus Epi-
phanes against the Jews, and was continued at various times
by various writers, Jewish and Christian, to a period shortly
after the death of Odenathus in 268 A.D. 10 The last books
were evidently written by a Jew who still believed in the
possible political resurgence of his people.
The earliest form of the Oracula Sibyllina was written to
encourage the Jews in a time of danger from a political enemy,
and promised them not only victory in the war but also the
ultimate triumph of their religion. The writer shrewdly turned
the weapons of his foes against themselves by writing in Greek,
adopting the form of the Sibylline Oracles, and attributing his
work to a Sibyl. The prophecies spoke of the Jews' hope in a
coming Messiah. The early Christians, coming in contact with
this material and considering the Messianic prophecy fulfilled,
accepted the rest as genuine and ranked the Sibyl with the
greatest of the Hebrew prophets. In the Dies Irae the Sibyl
is coupled with David. Quotations from the first eight books
are frequent in the writings of the Church Fathers for four
hundred years, but after the fourth century the Greek scholars
and theologians seem to have given the Oracula little credence.
In the West, however, the belief in them lingered longer. St.
Augustine in the sixth century quoted with admiration the
famous acrostic of Christ in the eighth book. Sedulius, a
Prankish monk of the ninth century, collected the fragments
scattered in the writings of the Church Fathers. The type
must have been familiar in the tenth century, for in that cen
tury Luitprand applied the adjective Sibyllini to certain proph
ecies he saw at Constantinople.
The Oracula Sibyllina is a disorderly mixture of hymns,
9 The eighth book is long and contains what would be books nine and ten,
if so divided.
10 Oracula Sibyllina, ed. C. Alexandre, 2 vols., in 3 parts, Paris, 1841-69.
ecstatic and mystical writing, historical narrative, and prophecy.
For instance, the first and second books, written rather late,
are really one poem of the Cursor Mundi kind, and like it nar
rate the history of the world from the Creation. Judaistic and
Christian theological ideas are strangely confused throughout
the whole a confusion due to the heterogeneous origin of the
various parts. The beginnings of many legends popular during
the Middle Ages, such as the story of Anti-Christ, and The
Fifteen Signs before the Judgment, are also to be found here.
Political events are often told in the guise of prophecy, and
pure prophecy occurs not infrequently. Various vaticinal
methods were used. Direct prophecy abounds. At other times
the disguise is so slight that it is really nothing more than a
kind of poetic allusion or a bit of ornamental description. Such
a case is the reference to the Romans, 11 " There will be the
rule of another kindgom, white and many-helmeted, from the
western sea, which will rule much land and cause consternation
Since this passage was written during the Roman supremacy,
disguise was hardly necessary. A king is often referred to by
his number in his dynasty. "Even until the seventh kingship
over which will rule the King of Egypt who will be of the
Greek race," refers simply to the seventh Ptolemy. In the
earlier books prophecy connected with individuals is sometimes
made by simple reference to a man and his deeds without nam
ing him. In such fashion Vespasian, or Titus, is referred to as
a champion of Rome who will come into Syria, set fire to a
temple, slay many with the darts of war, and kill the Jews in
their own city of the wide-streets.
The method of prophetic disguise peculiar to the Oracula
Sibyllina begins early in the fifth book and is usual in the later
books that deal very much with political affairs. It consists in
referring to a man by the initial of his name expressed by that
letter's numerical value in the Greek system of numerical no
tation. ' The first king will be one who sums up two tens with
his initial ' refers to Caesar, since Kappa, with which the Greek
form of the name begins, represents the numerical value of
11 Oracula Sibyllina, III, 175 f.
twenty. In like fashion Claudius is later referred to as twenty,
Tiberius as three hundred, and Caligula, whose real name was
Gaius, as three. The list might be prolonged indefinitely. An
exception to the general rule is made in the case of Augustus,
who is called the first letter of the alphabet, and in the case of
Hadrian, who appears as the man named for a sea, the Adriatic.
This initial-reference so characteristic of the Oracula Sibyl-
Una was popular late into the Middle Ages. But the numerical
element was discarded in the West as soon as the Greek system
became unfamiliar, for the Latin numerical system contained
too few characters to meet all occasions. Therefore, instead
of translating the initials into numerical equivalents, the
initials themselves were retained. This method of initial-
reference has already been defined as the Sibyllic.
Two cases of astrological prediction occur in the collec
tion. The first of these is a passage in which the Ethiopians
and Indians are told not to be frightened when Taurus and
Gemini are in ascendance, and Virgo and the Sun in conjunc
tion. 12 The second is an account of the end of the world, and
resembles in a general way the close of The Book of Merlin.
Its astrological nature is apparent at once; otherwise the
animal figures contained in it would be incomprehensible.
" I saw the threats of the sun burning among the stars
And the terrible wrath of the moon in lightning flashes.
The stars were in labor with battle and God turned to the conflict.
Great flames stood in the place of the sun.
Lucifer leaped upon the back of the Lion and gave battle.
The two-horned moon changed her phase ;
Capricorn smote the foot of the young Bull
And the Bull deprived Capricorn of the day of return.
Orion no longer allowed Libra to remain stationary.
Virgo changed places with Gemini in Aries.
The Pleiades shone no longer and the Dragon declined the girdle.
Pisces slipped into the baldric of the Lion
And Cancer did not remain, for he feared Orion ;
The Scorpion traversed the tail of the Lion
And the Dog fled from the heat of the sun.
Aquarius lighted the strength of the greater star.
Heaven itself was aroused so that it disturbed the combatants
12 Oracula Sibyllina, V, 206 f.
And threw the stars headlong to the earth ;
These falling swiftly into the Ocean's bath
Burned the whole world, and heaven itself was devoid of stars. 1 *
Genuine animal-symbolism occurs at two places in the last
two books of the Oracula Sibyllina. These two passages are
the only ones that bear any resemblance to The Book of Merlin
except its close, and they occur in books that seem to have
been little known before the nineteenth century. 1 * The longer
passage is really quite short; the animal names in the other
are metaphorical rather than symbolical. The first is the
longer and runs:
" Then will rule the insolent Romans two princes, men swift in war ;
one will have the number seventy (Valerian) : the other will be the third
number (Galienus) and then the haughty bull digging the earth with his
hoofs and stirring the sand with his horn will inflict many evils on the
dark crawling serpent (Sapor, King of Persia) dragging away his tail
with his scales, and then he will die. Then will come after him another
well-horned stag (Macrianus) thirsting on the mountains, longing to have
in his stomach the arrow-shooting quarry. Then a dreadful Sun-sent Lion
(Odenathus) will come breathing fire, and will destroy the well-horned
and active stag and the great arrow-shooting quarry, the archer, the he-
goat, which sends out many whistling sounds. The Lion will rule
Rome. . . ," 15
The second example is a reminiscence of this, and is more a
matter of metaphor, as has been said. It runs :
" But there the Lion, vanquisher of Bulls, bold with strength, with a
fearful mane, will scatter the whole flock and the keepers, and no strength
will be left them, unless young dogs swift of foot follow the Lion through
the wooded valleys. And a Dog followed him, killing the flock. Then
will rise a four-syllabled king, bold in strength, signified by the unit, whom
the iron hand of Mars and the wild rage of a jealous enemy will soon
13 Oracula Sibyllina, V, 510. The translation here is line for line of
"Only the first eight books were printed before 1817 when Cardinal
Maio printed book XIV. How much was known of the last four books be
fore that time is uncertain. The earliest reference to them found in this
study was by J. Wolf, Lectionum Memorabilium Centuriae, Lavingae, 1660?,
2 vols., I, p. 73. Here he speaks of ai Vatican ms. containing all fourteen
books. It is not impossible that these passages are late interpolations.
15 Oracula Sibyllina, XIII, 155-169.
18 Oracula Sibyllina, XIV, 12 f.
Following this passage the Sibyl continued in the usual
method, and named a long list of emperors who never reigned.
Passing references are made to a wolf, a lion and lioness, and
a mighty ram.
One of the most common themes in the Oracula Sibyllina
is the Fall-of-Rome motive, which was dear to both Christians
and Jews, but for different reasons. To the Jew it meant the
possible revival of his national existence, and therefore it was
eagerly prophesied. But the Christian had never known a
national existence, and, having no national traditions, he natu
rally regarded Rome as the incarnation of governmental
authority. To him the dissolution of the great Roman Empire
meant the end of the world and the fulfillment of his hopes
for the coming of his ideal Prince and the founding of the
spiritual kingdom. Consequently, on every promising occa
sion the Christians prophesied the fall of the empire and the
immediate end of all things temporal. 17 Around what was at
first a simple statement of the impending catastrophe grew up
a mass of theological doctrine that was long popular and was
later developed into The Fifteen Signs before the Judgment.
These signs as enumerated in the Oracula are the Fall of
Rome, disorders in the heavens, the birth of children with
gray hair, the return of the ten tribes, the return of Elias, the
reign of a woman, and the coming of Anti-Christ.
The origin of the legend of Anti-Christ is uncertain. Its
first appearance in Christian literature seems to be in Paul's
Epistle to the Thessalonians It was later combined with
the story of Nero's escape to Parthia, whence he was expected
to return and regain possession of Rome. Nero made an
excellent Anti-Christ. The identification with him was in
time forgotten, but his storied abode in Parthia gave Anti-
Christ a permanent place of origin in the East. The adoption
of Christianity as a state religion modified the legend, for the
Empire now became the champion of Christianity, and the
success of Anti-Christ meant the defeat of a Christian prince
17 Prophesied on the extinction of the Caesarian house ; at the time of
the Fall of Jerusalem ; and on other similar occasions.
18 Thessalonians, II, 2-3.
and the overthrow of a Christian government. To avoid this
a new legend arose that the last king of Rome would not be
conquered by Anti-Christ, but that at the birth of the Prince
of Evil he would go to Jerusalem and renounce his power at
the foot of the Cross. This is the so-called Last King of
The prophecy concerning the Last King of Rome is first
found in the Eastern Empire 19 in the writings of the Pseudo-
Methodius 20 and in the apocryphal apocalypses of Daniel. 21
In the Book of Methodius the prophecy is very simple. In the
seventh millenary the Ishmaelites rise and sweep victoriously
over a large part of the world. "Then suddenly a King of
the Greeks or Romans will leap upon them, and he will be
aroused as a man from drunkenness whom men had considered
as dead and useful in no way." This king and his sons con
quer the Ishmaelites and rule in peace until the nations whom
Alexander had shut behind the Black Sea break their bonds
and invade the Empire. The King overcomes them, and
retires to Jerusalem where he lives until Anti-Christ appears.
He then climbs Golgotha, hangs his crown upon the Cross,
surrenders his kingdom to God, and dies. Anti-Christ then
rules for a time, but is slain by God himself before the Judg
ment. This prophecy reappears in the apocalypses, but the
19 Kampers, Kaiserprophetieen and Kaisersagen in Mittelalter, Historische
Abhandlungen, VII, Munich, 1895, p. 214, endeavors to establish a similar
secular prophecy among the Romans. He argues from the Apollo-prophecy
in Vergil's Fourth Eclogue, the Daphne-Constantinia coins of Constantine's
reign, the phoenix-engravings on the tombs of the Roman Emperors, and
the prophecy made to the Emperor Tacitus that a descendant of his would
subdue the world and return his power to the Senate after living 120 years.
This last prophecy is the only important detail, but Kampers fails to show
that it had any but an ephemeral existence, or gained any permanent cre
20 E. Sackur, Sibyllinische Texte und Forschungen, Halle, 1898, p. 55.
The Book of Methodius exists only in a Latin translation from the Greek.
The oldest ms. was written in France and dates from the eighth century.
Internal evidence shows that the Book belongs to the seventh century.
21 (a) P. G. Kalemkiar, Der Siebente Vision Daniels, Wiener Zeitschrift
fur Kunde Morgenlands, Wien, 1892, VI, 109-36, 227-40. (&) A. Vassiliev,
Anecdota Graeca-Byzantina, 2 vols., Moskow, 1893, vol. i, p. 33 *
traditional material has undergone some modifications and
new material has been introduced. Occasional bits of animal-
symbolism are found such as the one quoted by Luitprand,
" The Lion and his son will pursue the onager," but they occur
only in fragments. No sustained or consistent animal-alle
gory is attempted. 22
The Last King of Rome was known in France as early as
the eighth century, as the manuscrpit of Methodius shows.
In the next century Adso 23 in his letter to Queen Gerberga on
Anti-Christ retold the prophecy with a purely local variation
to the effect that the Last King would belong to the Prankish
dynasty. The reason for this variation is to be found in the
political history of the time. The imperial crown of Charle
magne had passed from the Franks to the Germans, but the
Franks never forgot their hereditary claim and were con
stantly looking for an opportunity to regain their lost honors.
This prophecy crops up later in England, being applied to
Edward the Third in accordance with his claim to the French
The Sibylline tradition lingered long after the Oracula
Sibyllina had lost its hold, and bore fruit in a long prophecy
ascribed to the Sibyl Tiburtina. It was perhaps a continuance
of the unorthodox Sibylline material of the Roman Empire,
which left such scanty traces. 24 Procopius offers incontro
vertible evidence that similar material existed at Rome after
the fall of the city. 25 He mentions one that is especially note-
22 Byzantine prophecy was not confined to these visions of Daniel. Other
prophecies were attributed to Stephen of Byzantium. In the eleventh
century some Oracles were atributed to Leo the Philosopher who has been
confused with the Emperor of the same name. They consist of a series of
sixteen pictures representing the future, each with a metrical interpreta
tion which occasionally contains bits of animal-symbolism.
23 Sackur, Sibyl. Texte, has shown that the C.-Passage relating suppos
edly to an emperor with that initial is an interpolation.. Kampers and
others who have looked for a seventh century Byzantine prophecy of a
Constans are advised to study Vassiliev, loc. cit., I, 39, where they will
find a prophecy of a king whose name will be the thirtieth letter, Lambda.
Here is certain ground with no necessity for guess-work.
24 This material has all been collected by Alexandre, Oracula Sibyllina,
vol. 3, p. 107 f. and can be studied there to advantage.
25 Procopius, Gothic Wars, I, c. 19.
worthy in this connection 26 as current in Carthage. It is to
the effect that Gamma would expel Beta and Beta again expel
Gamma. This is the Sibyllic method after its simplification.
A century later the Sibyl is heard of in France. Fredegar's
chronicle contains two entries 27 relating to the Sibyls, both
of which passages are found in the oldest manuscript. The
first is a mere mention of Sevilla (Sibylla) and Europhile
(Herophile, one of the classic Sibyls) as having repute in
Samos. The second is a purely local prophecy on the Aus-
trasian queen, Brunehilde, and is atrributed to Sevilla. It
runs, " A Bruna coming from Spain before whose sight many
nations will perish." Sedulius put in his collection of the
Oracula Sibyllina some that are Arian in tendency and are
not found in the orthodox collection, and must have another
source. In the tenth century Luitprand 28 describes the Greek
apocalypses of Daniel as Sibyllini and must therefore have
been familiar with some Sibylline material. A prophecy relat
ing to Gerbert of Rheims, who became Pope Sylvester the
Second, makes use of the Sibyllic method of initial-reference.
It reads, "Transit ab R. Gerbertus ad R. post papa vigens
The Prophecy of Sibyl Tiburtina exists in several versions
of different dates, one of which is attributed to Bede, 30 but it
seems not to be older than the eleventh century. All versions
differ somewhat in references to affairs in Western Europe. 31
28 Procopius, Vandal Wars, I, c. 18.
27 Fredegar, Chronicle, II, c. 19; III, c. 50.
28 Luitprand, Legatio, c. 40.
29 Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica, book I, c. 24. " Gerbert goes
from R (Ravenna, his birthplace) to R (Rheims, where he became bishop),
afterwards living as Pope in R. (Rome)."
80 For different versions see: P. Ewald, Neues Archiv, 6, p. 249 f . ; G.
Waitz, Neues Archiv, 8, p. 172-175; F. Gerss, .Forschungen zur Deutschen
Geschichte, 19, p. 373; R. Usinger, Forschungen z. D. Gesch., 10, p. 621 f . ;
Godfrey of Viterbo, Pantheon, book 10; Migne, Patrologiae Latinae, 90, col.
1181 f. for version attributed to Bede.
31 Frequent allusions are made to affairs in the East, and are obviously
out of place in a prophecy dealing with German kings and Lombard princes.
Some Byzantine original may be at the bottom of the trouble. Byzantine
material may have entered Europe through Italy and have been combined
with the Sibyllic tradition of the West. Benso of Alba, Panegyricu$, I,
c. 15, applies a Byzantine prophecy to Henry the Fourth of Germany.
The method of the prophecy, aside from the narrative portions,
is Sibyllic initial-reference. No animal figures of any kind
are introduced, a fact which is very important, for this was
the most popular and widespread prophecy at the time The
Book of Merlin was produced. The traditional material re
lating to the Last King, the renunciation in Jerusalem, Anti-
Christ, and the uprising of Gog and Magog is given a very
prominent place in the prophecy.
Three short prophecies are to be found which contain animal
symbolism: The Vision of Childerich; The Anchorite's Vision;
and The Vision of the Five Beasts.
The Vision of Childerich dates from the early eighth cen
tury. 32 According to the story, Basina, wife of Childerich the
Merovingian, on her wedding night sent her lord out thrice
into the night to see what he could see. The first time he saw
a lion, the second a bear and a unicorn, the third time wolves,
dogs, and other small animals. This vision was supposed to
portray the history of the Merovingian dynasty. The lion is
easily identified as Clovis, the bear and unicorn as Dagobert
and his son, the * small deer ' as the ' Do-Nothing ' kings of
later generations. The prophecy is remarkable as antedating
the extinction of the dynasty.
The Anchorite's Vision 33 is a prophecy of the twelfth cen
tury relating to the affairs of Normandy. It is a vision of a
fair meadow full of flowers and protected by a wild horse
from the cattle that stand on the borders. The horse dies,
and a lascivious heifer of the flock undertakes the governance
of the meadow, but the cattle destroy it. The meadow is
interpreted as Normandy, the flowers the churches, the wild
horse William the Bastard, the cattle the enemies of Nor
mandy, and the heifer as Robert Curthose.
The Vision of the Five Beasts 3 * belongs to the same century.
32 Fredegar, Chronicle, III, c. 12. This prophecy is found in the oldest
manuscript which was written in 715, as B. Brusch has shown in the intro
duction of his edition of Fredegar for Monumenta Germaniae, 1888.
(Introd., p. 9 f.)
^Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica, book V, c. 10. This chapter
was written, as internal evidence shows, in 1126.
34 Neues Archiv, 37, p. 600, printed from Codex Vaticana 1348, twelfth
Five beasts, a flame-colored dog, a tawny wolf, a white horse, a
black hog, and a gray wolf, representing five kings who come
from the North, are tied by ropes to a small hill in the west
whence comes a voice. Anti-Christ appears with the last.
This closes the survey of vaticinal literature before 1135.
The survey has shown nothing that resembles the Merlin
prophecies except fragments which it is not certain Geoffrey
knew, three short prophecies two of which belong to the same
century, and The Omen of the Dragons described in the pre
ceding chapter. Otherwise the material and the vaticinal
method of The Book of Merlin were new. Furthermore, the
survey has shown that the Sibyllic method was universally
employed in such writing during the Middle Ages. It has also
shown what traditional material, such as the Anti-Christ and
Last-King-of-Rome themes, was popular and was constantly
used. The Book of Merlin contains no reference to this ma
terial and no suggestion of it. This omission must have been
deliberate on the part of the writer, for Geoffrey certainly
knew all these theological legends. The story of Anti-Christ
had been popular throughout Christendom from the earliest
centuries. The Last-King-of-Rome story with the attendant
Renunciation-in- Jerusalem, had been familiar to the French
since the ninth century, and must have been known in England
at an early date. Geoffrey certainly knew of the Sibyl as a
prophet, for he refers to her twice in the Historia as such.
In one place 35 he says that Alan consulted her prophecies with
those of Merlin and the Eagle in regard to Cadwallader. In
another place 36 he makes Hoel in a speech refer to a prophecy
of the Sibyl that Britain should give another Emperor to
Rome. 37 " The Prophecy of Sibyl Tiburtina was the most im
portant long prophecy nearest his own day, and because of its
popularity is the one he would probably have imitated. 38 It is
certain that he did not imitate it.
39 Evans, 324 ; Giles, 227.
36 Evans, 256; Giles, 177. In this last passage Geoffrey used the Latin
word vaticinia, but in the former passage the word carmen.
37 This may be an echo of the Last King of Rome.
88 A twelfth century version is found to-day in the British Museum
(Ward, loc. cit., I, 192-3.)
The only resemblances to The Book of Merlin in the older
prophecies occur in occasional passages, or are in very short
and unimportant individual pieces. It might be argued that
Geoffrey got from these few cases some suggestions which he
developed and elaborated. Such a point would be hard to
prove. Before adopting such a view it would be only just to
examine the evidence in favor of Geoffrey's own statement.
The evidence against Geoffrey of Monmouth's word has
been spoken of. In reality it is no evidence at all, but only
distrust. The failure of scholars to find Archdeacon Walter's
British Book 39 prejudiced critics and scholars against Geof
frey. They have refused to take his word unsupported by
other evidence, and have quoted with delight William of New-
burgh's attack on Geoffrey's veracity as proving their point.
So far as William of Newburgh's remarks prove anything,
they prove that Geoffrey had originals of some kind for the
Arthurian stories. William's real charge is not that Geoffrey
lied, but that he had been unscholarly in accepting tradition
as fact. 40 William acknowledges that Geoffrey translated the
prophecies from the Welsh. He says further, however, that
89 There is nothing to show that The Book of Merlin was a part of the
' British Book.' There is really no indication as to the form of the original.
Geoffrey says that he translated from the ' British ' (de Britannico in
Latinum, Giles, 119). This might indicate that his original came either
from Wales or from Brittany. In the prophecy the new dynasty that
succeeds the Norman is clearly Breton. This episode may be referred to
a Breton source. But if the rest of the prophecy is Breton it has been
localized in England, for the places named in it are all in the British
Isles. A more reasonable explanation is that the material came from
Wales, and that Geoffrey may have known it from his boyhood. Scraps
from several sources may have got into the collection.
40 See translation of Newburgh's Chronicle by Jos. Stevenson, in The
Church Historians of England, vol. 4, part 2, London, 1856, p. 398 f. It is
really a serious mistake for any writer to quote only a passage from
William's remarks in this connection, for a wrong impression is created.
William's chief anger is directed against the Welsh, whom he evidently
did not love, for devising the fable of Arthur and a past glory. The
stock passage always quoted in reference to Geoffrey is misleading, unless
it is studied in its context. William is really finding fault with Geoffrey
for perpetuating what he considers lies and what he thinks Geoffrey should
know were lies.
many people believed that Geoffrey edited them to fit the truth
and added guess-work of his own.
Although the " British Book " has not been found, scholars
no longer insist that Geoffrey forged his material. The pres
ence of Arthurian names in Italy in the early twelfth century
proves the existence of Arthurian material independent of
Geoffrey's book. 41 Even the name that most concerns this
study, Merlin, occurs in Italy in U28, 42 early enough to dis
prove the statement that Geoffrey was the first to use it. 43
The prominence of Merlin in the Uther-Igerne story as told
by Godfrey of Viterbo 44 shows that Geoffrey was not the
41 V. P. Rajna, Gli Eroi Brettoni nell' Onomastica Italiana del secolo XII,
"I. Sanesi, Storia di Merlino, Bergamo, 1898, xii. In May 1128 Galdia,
wife of Merlin deceased, endowed the monastery of S. Salvatore, Taone.
Her husband must have been born at least about the year noo.
43 W. Lewis Jones, The Arthurian Legend, Cambridge History of English
Literature, i, p. 298.
44 Godfrey of Viterbo, Pantheon, Monumenta Germaniae, XXII. Godfrey
heads the eighteenth chapter of the Pantheon, De Anglis et Saxonibus.
He takes up the story of Britain with the accession of Constans the Monk,
and concludes with the marriage of Uther and Igerne, saying that their
son will be Arthur. He differs from Geoffrey of Monmouth in the names
of the characters and in the details of the action.
Godfrey does not use the same spelling as Geoffrey, and sometimes
changes the name altogether. Vortigern he calls Voltigern ; Vortimer, Vol-
gimer; Horsus, Orsus but apparently Orso, Orsonis, in oblique cases;
Hengist loses the initial H. ; Merlinus is sometimes shortened to Merlus
for metrical reasons ; Igerne becomes Hierna ; the Picts appear as Quirites.
The name Rowena does not occur, but in its stead he uses Angria, taken,
he says, from the name of the country which was so called before Pope
Gregory substituted an L for an R. Angria is perhaps a pun on Delra,
one of the divisions of the old Northumbrian kingdom. Dux Cornubiae
represents Gorlois, who is not named ; Ulfin of Ricaradoc, the friend who
advised the king to consult Merlin and who went with him to Tintagel,
gives place to an unnamed Medicum Gothorum, whom Uther consulted
while the fever of love was on him. No name is given Igerne's castle of
Godfrey changes very much the genealogy of the Pendragon dynasty.
He makes Uther and Aurelius the sons of Diocletian's colleague Maxi-
mianus, who, he says, had been sent to govern Britain. This is a two-fold
mistake. The Maximianus sent to Britain was quite another man and in
no way connected with the Pendragons, who were the sons of Constantine
first to connect Merlin with the Arthurian material. This has
not, I believe, been pointed out before.
The problem of the ' British Book ' has been touched on here
only as it concerns Geoffrey's reputation for veracity. It is
of Brittany. Constans the Monk he makes the uncle instead of the elder
brother of Uther and Aurelius.
In the Pantheon the Saxons under the leadership of Orsus and Engistus
are called into the country by Vortigern at the advice of an unnamed Saxon,
and one of them slays Constans. The Britons, not liking the growing
supremacy of the Saxons, elect Volgimer king. He defeats the Saxons, but
the war is interrupted by Voltigern's attempts to make peace. The war
is continued, and results in the defeat and flight of the Germans. They
return after a time, and renew the struggle. Volgimer is defeated, and
flees to the forest where he is said to have died of poison. Voltigern mar
ries Angria, the sister of Engist and Orsus, and makes peace. In the
Historia the Picts are introduced into the kingdom by Vortigern, and a
Pict slays Constans. The coming of the Saxons follows Vortigern's acces
sion. The marriage with Rowena takes place shortly after the landing of
the Saxons. In the British outbreak Vortimer is successful and rules
supreme until he is poisoned by Rowena.
Godfrey introduces the building of Vortigern's tower with no introductory
explanations. Apparently it is built at the king's caprice, for no mention
is made of the treachery of the Germans or to the massacre of the Britons.
The account of the instability of the works agrees with that in the His
toria, but the Latin phrasing is never the same. The search for the ' boy
born without a father' and the finding of Merlin is told in the same way
in both books. But in the Pantheon Merlin does not confront the Mages,
who are put to death. They escape in the Historia. Merlin's explanation
of the causes for the falling of the tower is given in greater detail, but
agrees in the main with Geoffrey's account. There is, however, no hint of
anything under the pool, and the appearance of the dragons is something of
a surprise. No reference is made to the rock and the tent which conceal
the dragons in the Historia. The dragons do not fight each other, but
devastate the country until one is killed by Uther who gets thereby the
surname Pendragon. The King and Queen in alarm ask Merlin to explain
the portent of the dragons. He says that they represent Uther and Aurelius
who are finally to get possession of the country. No such explanation is
given in the Historia.
Immediately after the episode of the dragons and Merlin's interpretation
follows a brief account of the war between Voltigern and the sons of Con-
stantine, in which Voltigern is killed. Angria, aided by Orsus and Engistus,
continues the hostilities, but finally agrees to a peace, and is granted the
government of the Marine Fields. Aurelius becomes king, and although
a Manichean in religion, proves to be a good ruler. He is succeeded by
constantly suggested by the question of the sources of The
Book of Merlin, but the two issues must be kept separate.
Except as here indicated, the ' British Book ' does not concern
The Book of Merlin in any way. Its existence is important
only as establishing the possibility that Geoffrey could and
would tell the truth. It makes Geoffrey's own statement more
credible. The evidence in support of his statement deals with
quite other matters. This evidence is drawn both from external
and internal sources, and leads unmistakably to the conclusion
that The Book of Merlin was translated from a Welsh source
of some kind.
It has been shown already that William of Newburgh, who
is so frequently quoted against Geoffrey, says clearly that
Uther. In the Historia there is no mention of Rowena after the poisoning
of Vortimer. Horsus furthermore was slain in the war against Vortimer.
Aurelius was not a heretic, but a devout and orthodox Christian who cared
for the rebuilding of the churches destroyed by the Saxons.
Godfrey omits many events in the reign of Uther. The first event re
counted is Uther's meeting with Hierna, wife of the Duke of Cornwall, at
the Easter festival. The Duke arose frightened at the King's attentions,
and Hierna fled. War ensued between the King and the Duke. Uther
fell sick with love of Hierna, and consulted a Gothic doctor, who failed to
find the cause of the distemper. Merlin was then called. He diagnosed
the case properly, and proposed the magic disguise to effect the King's
desires. According to the Historia, Uther was not sick, but consulted
Ricaradoc concerning means of gaining his end, and Ricaradoc recom
mended that Merlin be called.
Merlin and Uther went alone to Hierna's castle which was some distance
from that in which the Duke was staying. The Duchess welcomed the
King in the semblance of the Duke, who told her that he was hard beset,
but that he had one day of rest. They dined together, and then retired.
Before parting the next morning they exchanged tokens of their affection.
After leaving the Duchess Uther heard that Gorlois had been killed.
Later Hierna came out into the meadow to make terms with the King,
and told him that she had a brave husband at home. Uther then told her
the truth, and finally persuaded her to marry him. The meeting of the
Duchess and the disguised King in the castle is described in detail. Tn
the Historia it is barely mentioned. Uther learns the news of his enemy's
death from messengers who came to the castle to inform the Duchess of it.
The messengers are naturally much amazed to see her sitting beside one in
the Duke's semblance. Uther returns to his army to hear what had hap
pened, and later goes back to Igerne and persuades her to marry him.
Geoffrey translated the prophecies of Merlin, which constitute
The Book of Merlin. Further support is lent Geoffrey's claims
to translation by the existence of The Prophecy of Ambrosius
Merlin concerning the Seven Kings, which was translated by
John Cornwall from a Welsh source independent of Geoffrey's,
but which contained much the same material. This original is
also lost, but similar material actually existed in Wales during
the same century and was attributed to Merlin, as Giraldus
bears undisputable testimony. Giraldus also makes it plain that
these prophecies were common property and were used by the
people and the bards alike. Such evidence should be conclusive
Unfortunately none of the Welsh originals for the transla
tions of Geoffrey, John, and Giraldus are extant. But other
Welsh poems of a predictive nature ascribed to Merlin have
survived. They present at least one problem of some difficulty,
for all of the manuscripts are of later date than 1135. It is,
however, certain that they contain material that is much older.
It is not unreasonable to infer that the poems which discuss
early historical events antedate the twelfth century. 45 In The
Dialogue between Merlin and Taliessin* 5 Myrdin (the Welsh
cognate of Merlin) appears as a prophet conversing with
Taliessin and foretelling the future. This poem ends rather
significantly for the present study :
Since I, Myrdin, am next after Taliessin,
Let my prediction become common.
A group of predictive poems relating to Cadwallader mention
Merlin as a prophet. These refer to the expected return of
Cadwallader and his alliance with Conan of Brittany. 46 An
echo of this legend is found in The Book of Merlin in the
48 W. F. Skene, The Four Ancient Books of Wales containing The Cymric
Poems attributed to the Bards of the Sixth Century, 2 vols., Edinburgh,
1868, vol. i, p. 222, 225. Volume one contains essays on various subjects
connected with these poems and translations of the poems themselves. The
Welsh texts and notes are in volume two.
"Geoffrey takes no cognizance of this legend in the Historia, for he
chronicles the death of Cadwallader in chapter 18 of book twelve. For
the political relations of this story consult Villemarque, loc. cit., passim.
passage, " Cadwallader shall call unto Conan and receive
Albany into his fellowship." But a more intimate relation
exists between The Book of Merlin and the Welsh poems. The
distinguishing feature of the former is the unusual animal-
symbolism. Something very similar to this is found in the
kind of epithets bestowed by the bards upon their patrons, as
Urien, ' Eagle of the Land/ The fact that Gildas 47 uses the
same kind of epithet in his Epistle shows that it occurs in
Welsh literature from the earliest times. If, as Skene 48 sug
gested, Maglocune and Cuneglas are referred to in Poem XVII
of the Red Book of Hergest as ' The Dragon from Gwynedd '
and ' The Bear from the South/ the continuance of the epithets
so late and the substitution of them for the names of the kings
would strengthen the conclusion. This substitution of the
epithet for the person occurs as early as the sixth century, for
Gildas refers to Boadicea as the ' deceitful Lioness ' without
naming her, and to the mother of Constantine as ' the unclean
Lioness of Damnonia.' This is what has happened in the case
of the prophecies. The epithet has been used as a vatic symbol.
Similarly, in the Welsh poems preserved, the epithet is fre
quently used without the man's name but with no prophetic
In The Book of Merlin the animals employed as symbols,
once or oftener, are the Boar, the Lion, the Eagle, the Lynx,
the Goat, the Ass, the Hedgehog, the Heron, the Fox, the Wolf,
the Bear, the Dragon, the Bull, and the Owl. Not all of these
are used as epithets in the poems examined. Some epithets are
found in the poems that are not employed in the prophecies.
The animal names common to the poems and the prophecies
are used in various ways in the poems. The Bear is applied
directly as an epithet to Adan and to Cyndylan, and as a simile
47 Gildas addresses Constantine as ' the tyrannical whelp of the unclean
Lioness of Damnonia/ Aurelius Conans as * the Lion's Cub,' Cuneglass as
' the bear and charioteer of the bear,' and Maglocune as * the dragon of
the island.' Novatus, a persecutor of the Christians he calls 'black Hog.'
In the historical part of the Epistle he calls Porphyrius ' mad Dog,' and
refers to Boadicea as the * deceitful Lioness.' He also likens Vortipore to
the leopard, pardo similis.
48 Skene, vol. i, p. 213.
to Caradawg ' whose stroke in battle was like the woodland
boar's,' and to Bleiddiad who had the ' aspect of a boar.' The
Lion is used as a symbol for an unnamed chief in The Satis
faction of Urien, and is applied to another nameless prince
about to be baptized, in Poem XVII of The Book of Taliessin.
It is used several times in the Gododin poems symbolically for
other unnamed kings. The Eagle is used in the same poems
as a symbol for a nameless king whose descendant is referred
to as ' Grandson of the Eagle of Gwydien,' and in an address
to Urien for that king himself. It is also bestowed as an epithet
upon Urien. The Wolf is used as a symbol in the Cuhelyn and
Poem XIV of The Black Book of Caermarthen, and as an
epithet with the names of Brann, Ceawy, and Cyndylan. The
Bear is the epithet of Cynan and Cadwaladyr. It is found as a
symbol in Poem XVII of the Red Book of Hergest, in the
Hoianau, and in Poem LIII of The Book of Taliessin. The
Dragon is used as the epithet of Angor, and as a symbol in
Poem XVII of The Red Book of Hergest, in Poem LIII of
The Book of Taliessin, and in the Gododin poems. The Bull,
Bull of the Battle, Bull of the Conflict, occurs more frequently
than any previously mentioned. It is used as the epithet of the
Privet in The Battle of the Trees, of Llwid Llednais in The
Verses of the Graves, and of Eithynin in the Gododin poems,
in the Gorchan of Tudviwch, in The Verses of the Graves, and
in Poem XXXIII of The Black Book of Caermarthen. This
enumeration, except in the first case, does not include the
similes and metaphors in which the animal images are used.
A similar use of animal imagery and epithets is to be observed
in the tales of the Mabinogion. But sufficient citations have
been made to show clearly the relationship.
The Book of Merlin contains several obscure passages in
which the symbolism is effected partly by the use of trees and
forests. The passage telling of the expulsion of the foreigners
is followed by the sentence, " Cambria shall be filled with
gladness and the oaks of Cornwall wax green." 49 One sentence
further is the passage, " From Conan shall issue forth the war
like Boar that shall try the sharpness of his teeth in the forests
of Gaul. For the greater oaks shall he stub each one, but unto
49 Evans, 177; Giles, 123.
the smaller shall he grant protection." 50 Towards the close of
the third chapter is the allegory of the tree with three branches,
the North wind, and the birds. 51 In the fourth chapter is an
account of the nesting of the Heron of Calaterium in an oak on
a mountain in the Valley of Galabes. 52 Later, after an over
flow of the Thames, a conflict between the oaks of the forest
and the rocks of the Gewissi is described. 53 The prophecy also
narrates the transformation of three thundering bulls into
trees. 54 All these passages seem utterly unintelligible until
one finds that in The Battle of the Trees the conflict is described
as if the opposing parties were really trees. In The Spoils of
Taliessin, furthermore, the Oak is used as the symbol for the
prince addressed by the poet. These forests, oaks, and other
trees may thus be interpreted as referring to individuals. The
Oak, in one of whose branches the Heron nests, may refer to
some family into which the Heron, a princess, marries. The
Branch of the Oak would then be the husband.
It has been shown that Geoffrey of Monmouth did not
imitate any of the continental prophecies that preceded The
Book of Merlin. It has been shown, furthermore, that external
evidence indicates very clearly that Geoffrey translated The
Book of Merlin from the Welsh. Internal evidence has shown
a close relation between the conventions of the prophecies and
the conventions of Welsh poetry. But none of the Welsh
poems preserved is the original of The Book of Merlin. The
repetition of motives throughout the prophecies seems to indi
cate that the original was a collection of fragments, or episodes,
that had been put together with as much continuity as possible.
Since prophetic fragments were sung by the bards, as Giraldus
says, they were in all probability metrical. If the arrangement
of the material in The Seven Kings is an indication, this
original was perhaps in dialog form, and contained apostrophes,
and ejaculatory expressions of the prophet's emotioits. But
beyond this little can be determined of the form of the original.
50 Evans, 177; Giles, 123.
51 Evans, 178; Giles, 123-4.
53 Evans, 181 ; Giles, 125.
53 Evans, 183; Giles, 127.
54 Evans, 186 ; Giles, 128.
THE MAJOR MONUMENTS OF THE ENGLISH TRADITIONS;
WELSH, SCOTTISH AND IRISH PROPHECIES
It is not practicable to continue the study of the prophecies
chronologically, for they soon become too numerous and too
short, and deal with too many different things to be treated
and discussed in a general study. Attention can be given only
to the major monuments that rose during the flourishing period
of the type. These are The Prophecy of the Six Kings to
follow King John, The Prophecy of Thomas a Becket, The
Prophecy of John of Bridlington, and The Prophecy of Thomas
of Erceldoune. In the form in which these prophecies have
come down, they belong to the latter half of the fourteenth or
to the early fifteenth century. The Six Kings and Erceldoune
prophecies are older in their origin. After the fifteenth century
it became the habit to collect several prophecies into one, or to
give new material lengthier treatment.
The Prophecy of the Six Kings to follow King John, 1 hence
forth to be referred to as The Six Kings, presents a more con
tinuous literary history than the others, for it is derived ulti
mately from The Book of Merlin. It appears at its different
stages in Latin, Anglo-French, and English. An English ver
sion in riming verse is very important because of its historical
connections, for it is the prophecy that was used against Henry
the Fourth by the Percy-Glendower faction, the ' skimble-
skamble stuff' of Shakspere. It purports, as its name implies,
to foretell the events in the reigns of the six kings who suc
ceeded fting John.
The account of the kings begins with the Lamb of Win
chester (Henry the Third). According to Merlin, this Lamb is
to have a white chin, sothefast lips, and a heart wherein Holi-
1 Printed as an appendix in Jas. Hall's edition of Laurence Minot's Poems,
London, 1887. Echoes of this prophecy are found in two of Minot's poems.
ness is written. While he is truand, an insurrection is to be
raised in his realm by a wolf of a strange land, but it is to be
quelled by the aid of a Red Fox from the Northwest. At
his death his heir shall be in a strange land, and the realm shall
abide for a time without a ruler.
The Lamb is to be succeeded by his heir, the Dragon (Ed
ward the First), whose disposition is of mercy and severity
mingled. This Dragon shall have a beard like a Goat and a
sweet breath. He is to frighten Wales from North to South,
and conquer many countries. A people of the Northwest, led
by a wicked Greyhound, shall make an incursion into the
country, but they shall be defeated by the side of the sea, and
dwell for a time in many perils as stepchildren. This Dragon
shall foster a Fox that shall raise a war against him not to be
ended in his time. This Dragon in his lifetime is to be con
sidered the best knight in the world, and is to die on the borders
of another country. Then shall the land dwell in trouble as a
stepchild without its mother.
After the Dragon shall succeed a Goat (Edward the Second)
who has horns of silver and silk, and a beard like a buck;
whose breath betokens hunger, death of the people, loss of
land, and much other trouble ; and in whose days, Merlin says,
whoredom and adultery shall be prevalent. This Goat shall
come out of Carnarvon and go to another country to get the
Flo wer-of -Life (Isabella of France). During his reign so
many people shall die that strangers shall be bold against him.
Upon an arm of the sea a battle shall be fought in a shield-
shaped field. A Bear of the Goat's blood shall raise war against
him. The Goat, clad in a Lion's skin, shall at first make resis
tance successfully with the aid of a people from the Northwest,
and avenge himself on his enemies. But he shall end his days
in pain and sorrow. In his time shall flourish an Eagle of
Cornwall, named Gaveston, who shall die for his pride and
After the Goat shall come a Lion (Edward the Third), who
shall be fierce and terrible in heart, whose countenance shall
be full of pity and justice, whose breast shall be a slaking of
thirst for those that love peace and rest, whose tongue shall
speak truth, and whose bearing shall be meek as any lamb. In
the beginning of his reign he shall have trouble to punish mis
creants, but he shall at length make his people as meek as a
lamb. He shall be called Boar of Prosperity, Nobility, and
Wisdom. He shall come out of Windsor, and shall go through
four lands whetting his tusks. He shall go even to the Holy
Land without opposition. Spain, Aragon, and France shall
acknowledge his power. He shall whet his tusks against the
gates of Paris, and shall wear three crowns before he dies. He
shall meet his end in a far country and be buried beside three
After the Lion, or Boar (for he is called both in the poem)
shall come an Ass (Richard the Second) with leaden feet, a
steel head, a brass heart, and an iron skin. This Ass shall
govern his land in rest and peace, and shall be praised for his
well doing. Then he shall give his land into the governance of
an Eagle, who shall govern it well until, overcome with pride,
he is slain by the sword of a brother. The control of affairs is
then to revert to the Ass, who rules well and in whose time all
good things are plentiful.
Afterwards a Mole (Henry the Fourth) shall be ruler of the
land. This Mole shall have a hide as rough as a goat's skin,
and shall be accursed of God for his misdeeds. He shall be
greatly praised until he is overcome with pride. Then shall a
Dragon raise war against the Mole. A Wolf, seeing the
Dragon hard pressed, shall come to the Dragon's aid. Then
both shall be joined by a Lion from Ireland. This combination
is then to defeat the Mole and drive him from the land, leaving
him only an island in the sea where he shall pass his life in
great sorrow and strife, and finally lose his life by drowning.
England shall be divided into three parts between the Dragon
and the Lion and, it would seem, the Wolf, who, however, is
not mentioned in the partition. Then shall England be known
everywhere as the Land of Conquest, and the heirs of England
lose the heritage.
The framework of The Six Kings is taken from Geoffrey of
Monmouth's The Book of Merlin. King John was identified
by various chroniclers as the Lynx of the earlier prophecy
under whom Neustria (Normandy) should lose both the
islands. John's loss of Normandy fulfilled this prophecy in an
inverse manner. But the overthrow of the Normans and the
restoration of the native dynasty remained unaccomplished.
According to The Book of Merlin Conan succeeded the Lynx.
This part of the prophecy was passed over, and the Lamb of
Winchester substituted for Conan with no explanation. For
the Boar who was to stub short the Oaks of Gaul, according to
the earlier work, the Dragon was substituted. The Goat, the
Boar, and the Ass are identical in both prophecies, but the
Mole is not to be found in the earlier one. Beyond the mere
identity of certain symbols the two have little in common, al
though the main theme of the Goat episode in The Book of
Merlin is mentioned in The Six Kings. The Boar in the latter
seems to be a combination of the Boar who was to stub the
Oaks of Gaul, and the Boar of Commerce in the former.
It is not to be expected that all versions of this prophecy
should agree in minor details. Just as this poem differs from
The Book of Merlin, so the versions differ from each other.
Some contain more material than others. Some agree in gen
eral subject matter but not in minute details. In some cases
genuine history has caused a correction of earlier mistakes.
Detailed study, however, is impracticable in this place and has
therefore been relegated to an appendix. 2 The consideration
of this poem's importance in political history must be postponed
to the next chapter which deals with the interrelation between
history and the prophecies.
The Prophecy of John of Bridlington 3 is, perhaps, the most
interesting example of the genre because of its length and
elaborateness, and the artistic care with which every little
detail of the plan has been worked out. It is a Latin poem
provided with a commentary, a dedicatory epistle, and three
introductory essays, or preambles as they are called by the
2 See Appendix i. The date of this poem is uncertain. It is found
first in a fifteenth century manuscript, but the vague description of the end
of Edward the Second's reign would indicate that it was written before his
death in 1327.
3 Thomas Wright, Political Poems and Songs, London, 2 vols. Rolls Series,
1859, vol. i, p. 123 f.
writer himself, all likewise in Latin. Since the commentator
gives the impression that he is not the author of the poem,
it was first thought that two men were concerned with the
prophecy. John of Bridlington was accredited with the vati-
cinal portion; a certain John Ergome with the commentary,
dedication, and essays. 4 But there seems no valid reason for
doubting that both parts are the work of one man whose name
The date can be fixed with fair accuracy. The work is dedi
cated to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, Essex, and
Northampton, Constable of England, and Lord of Brecknock,
who succeeded to these honors in 1161 and died in iij2. 5 The
poem must have been written between these dates. A refer
ence 6 to the visit of David Bruce to Edward the Third shows
that it must have been written later than 1163. An allusion to
an irregular election of an Archbishop of Canterbury 7 would
seem to place the date of composition before 1366 when Simon
de Langham was chosen, 8 apparently with no irregularity, to
succeed Archbishop Islip, who had just died. Langham was,
however, deposed in 1368, a fact which answers well to an
alternative mentioned in the commentary on the passage relat
ing to the Archbishop. If the reference were to this event,
the poem would have to be dated later than 1368. But the
author of the prophecy would then be anticipating somewhat,
for the other events described in the same stanza all took place
in 1363. This episode of the Archbishop is best considered a
case of genuine prophecy accidentally fulfilled. The fact that
no historical event later than 1363, unless perhaps this obscure
matter relating to the Archbishop, is referred to leads to the
conclusion that the prophecy was written about 1364.
The introductory essays are interesting in themselves. The
second of these enumerating the various tricks of prophetic
disguise has been discussed in the first chapter of this study.
The third is little more than a brief outline of the poem. In
5 Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 5, London, 1886, p. 310.
9 Bridlington, III ; iii.
''Bridlington, III; iii.
8 Diet. Nat. Biog., vol. 29, 1892, p. 74; vol. 32, 1892, p. 99.
the first the commentator says that there are four things
(causae) to be observed in regard to the prophecy: the events
it narrates, and the various customs and manners it discusses
(accidentia) ; the method of composition (causa formalis) ;
the origin of the prophecy (causa efficiens) ; lastly, the purpose
with which the prophecy was written (causa finalis).
The accidentia he explains as the events of war; the cus
toms and manners of the realm, such as the obedience paid
the laws, contempt and neglect of the laws, lust, avarice, and
other vices and virtues; the manners of the lords and coun
cillors of the king and of the whole people ; lastly, the matters
that concern the whole people, such as changes in costume,
changes in the coinage, pestilences, famines, and similar calami
ties. As to the causa formalis three things are to be noticed :
the literary form, which is verse instead of prose ; the manner
of presentation, which is by means of obscure, prophetic
(prophetialis) terms; and the order of events, in which the
past is narrated and the future is forteold. The causa efficiens,
says the commentator gravely, is the Holy Spirit which, accord
ing to the general opinion, dictated the prophecy in a vision to
a regular canon, who committed it to writing. In regard to
the causa finalis three things are to be observed. The first is
the benefit to be derived from the knowledge of prophecies,
for he who knows prophecies is forewarned for his own bene
fit, can warn his friends, and will be prepared to share in any
prospective good fortune. The second is the satisfaction which
comes to a man from three sources : because he knows some
thing of which his fellows know nothing; because by knowing
one prophecy he is the more able to interpret others ; because
he can appreciate thereby the love of God who took pains to
forewarn him. The third thing to be observed is the honor that
is obtained by the knowledge of prophecies. Men who are
acquainted with them have more knowledge than other men,
and because of this superior knowledge are considered more
fit to rule.
The plan of the prophecy is very methodical. It is divided
into three sections (divisiones) . Each section is divided into
chapters (capitula) which are so short that they are really
stanzas. The first section, after an introductory stanza, nar
rates the events from the accession of Edward the Second to
the preparations for the battle of Crecy ; the second covers the
sixteen years from 1344 to 1360; the third begins with the
year 1360 and professes to tell the history of the Black Prince
as King of England until he is acknowledged King of France.
This last section contains the matter that is purely vaticinal.
A commentary is provided for each chapter, but in later ver
sions was discarded with the result that any desired interpre
tation was given any passage.
The various tricks of disguise used in this poem have been
discussed in the first chapter. For so long a prophecy the
animal symbols are comparatively few. None of the symbols
are taken from The Book of Merlin, as in The Six Kings,
except the Goat which stands for Edward the Second. Edward
the Third is constantly spoken of as the Bull, taurus, except
once when he is called the Kite, milvus. David Bruce, the
King of Scotland, is called the Crab, cancer, because he had at
crucial moments a habitual tendency to retrograde action.
The Black Prince after his accession is called the Cock, gallus.
This is perhaps a pun on the two meanings of the Latin word
gallus, for the prophet declares that the French in his reign
submit to the English and accept him as king. The commen
tator says in the second essay that gallus is used for the King
of France. 9 On different occasions various noblemen of Eng
land are referred to more or less indefinitely as oxen, gray old
dogs, lions, calves, leopards, and bears. The allies of the
Scottish King in a war against England prophesied for the
last years of Edward the Third's reign are called by the names
of fishes, such as the Turbot, rumbus, which is used for the
King of Denmark.
The poem contains a great deal of etymologizing in that
the component parts of an English compound word are fre
quently translated into Latin ; thus mare mortis for Mortimer.
9 Neither Philip, John, nor Charles is spoken of in the poem as gallus.
But the plural galli often occurs for the French, who are also called
Franci. The phrase pulli gallorum occurs often enough to indicate that
galli means cocks.
The parentage of Edward the Third is made very obscure by
the use of this trick. The Latin of the passage runs,
Ex hirco taurum redimita per aurum,
Ex auris aurum ventis componitur.
Hircus, the Goat, stands for Edward the Second. Redimita
per aurum is a phrase used for Isabella of France, the mother
of Edward the Third. Ex auris aurum is a phrase used for the
son, aurum, of wealthy parents, duris. Ventis aurum is an
etymologizing of Windsor, Edward the Third's birthplace;
ventis translates the English winds, aurum the final or, which
is taken to be French. The Duke of Lancaster becomes
longum castrum. Cams vicus stands for the Earl of Derby,
terra vada for the Earl of Hereford. The Battle of Halidon
Hill is referred to as a battle at mons sacer, the Battle of
Mountjoy in France as at mons gavisus. Frons ursina is hard
to recognize as Berwick, which the commentator calls Bear-
front also. The punning translation of names, such as pene-
trans for Percy, is a similar trick.
Because of its numerous conventions the poem almost defies
adequate translation, for in most cases the ambiguity of the
original cannot be preserved. The line 10
Milvi caedentur, cuculi silvis capientur,
taken from the account of the Scottish invasion of England
during the later years of Edward the Third's reign, is an
example. The trouble lies with milvi and cuculi which are not
really substantives but numerical symbols confusedly arranged.
Thus milvi stands for MLVII, and cuculi for CCLXI.
A better idea of the poem can be got from connected passages.
The second chapter of the second section is typical of the
whole. As nearly as it can be translated, it runs thus :
" Now wars increase, thrice three battles arise : Thou Maid, Dear Star
of the Sea, bear Thou the standard. Twice dux shall strike vix with
three hundred allied (MCCCLXVI). The false Phi. (Philip) will flee,
he will not aid the fallen. A King, a Duke, and a Soldier become common
after the slaughter. The heads of ducum (either nobles or MDCX)
adorned with jewels will be broken: no one shall save his life by yielding
10 Bridlington, III: vi.
his jewels. No one crosses the Glad Mountain (Mountjoy) without dis
aster: the Grandmaster himself shall not be saved. The horns of the
just shall be against the Galli, and the English shall delight in the delicacy
of the grape. Striving to destroy the English lands by war, the plough
(culter) will be a witness. David, the adulterer, will be ruined. Sus-
picor, the priest, (Zouche) and penetrans (Percy) true to his name, will
penetrate the bowels of the Scottish warriors. Wide wounds will be made
with the narrow sword. For Luke, the physician, will not be friendly to
the Scots (a reference to a battle fought on St. Luke's Day.) For with
the Devil as chief they will be conquered on Luke's Day. At nova villa
with the cross as a witness (Neville's Cross) will they lie hidden without
light. Victory will not be slow with a small band, clean in mind, when
Christ carries the standard. The holy horned ones (bishops whose mitres
were horned), mute as to Divine Law, shall be safe this time under the
shield. And it shall not be unsaid that the Scots paid their tribute."
The difficult question of indebtedness to other prophecies
now arises. It has been shown that the animal symbols are
not taken from The Book of Merlin. The greater part of the
poem is evidently a tour de force. The writer, however, may
have made some use of existing materials, but the evidence on
the point is very slight. The Cock was employed in vaticinal
literature as a symbol for France or the King of France as
early as 1358, at least eight years earlier than the composition
of this poem. 11 The Crab was used in the Giraldian Collec-
11 " Herwib acordib Merlyn Ambrose bat such angusche is nyge for as
by hem in J?e tyme of be myscheif of >e kok bab we clepe fraunce
}>at schal be distroyed by J?e sixte of irlond be witt is our kyng wib his
children." The Last Age of the Church, ed. J. H. Todd, Dublin, 1840, p.
xxxiii. This was written in the year 1356 according to the date given in
the context, p. xxxi. The unknown author quotes four lines from the
prophecy known from the opening words as Gallorum levitas. Gallus is
used for France in the Versus Northmannie.
Anglia transmittet leopardum lilia Galli
Qui pede calcabit cancrum cum fratre superb o
Ungues diripient Leopardi gallica regna
Circulus invictus circumdabit unde peribunt
Anglia regnabit vasconia parta redibit
Ad juga consueta leopardi ftandria magna
Flumina concipiet que confundent genetricem
Lilia marcescent leopardi posse vigebit
Ecclesie sub quo libertas prima redibit
Huic babilon metuet circis (?} omnibus vanterit
lion, but its interpretation is unknown. It is used as a symbol
for the King of Scotland in the Versus Northmannie. 11 The
Bull had occurred frequently in The Book of Merlin, but no
instance of its use for Edward the Third has been found in
the course of this study. The unusual method of expressing
numbers had been used before. The Latin prophecy beginning,
" Tolle caput Mortis bis cancri luna suum dat
Hiis ter junge decem tercaput adde iovis? 2
is an example. The two lines express in a round-about way
the year 1283 for which the prophecy was written. Examples
of Latin numerals so arranged as to form words have not been
Bridlington is interesting also for its relationship to later
prophecies. The Cock in the North beginning
" Quen J?e cokke in }>e northe has biggid his neste
And buskid his bryddes and bowned him to fle "
seems to take its beginning from the two lines
" Tempore brumali gallus nido boreali
Pullos unabit, et se volitare parabit. 1 *
But the resemblance 15 between the two passages does not prove
Aeon Jerusalem Leopardi posse redempte
Ad cultum fidei gaudebunt se redituras
(Ms. in British Museum, Arundel 57, f. 4. a.)
This prophecy is older than 1320. It is quoted in an exposition of sev
eral prophecies in the same manuscript beginning on the next folio.
This date is given in the second line of the exposition. Ward (Cat. i,
308) thought the date should be 1340, basing his conclusion on an erasure
in the date. The erasure does not prove that the date given fe
incorrect, for the original may have been wrong. Mistakes are frequently
erased. A reference to Robert Bruce as still alive, a few lines further,
shows that the exposition must have been written before his death in
1329. 1320 cannot be far wrong.
"Ward, loc t cit.,l, 311.
13 See note i, chapter i.
14 Bridlington, III, ix.
15 This resemblance was noted by Brandl (The Cock in the North, 1177)
who considers the English lines a translation from the Latin, since the un
known author of The Cock in the North refers in his poem to Bridlington.
the English a translation of the Latin. The Latin verses
might equally as well have been translated from an English
original which has also served as the basis of The Cock in the
North. The Prophecy of the Fysshes 16 is certainly a close
metrical adaptation in English of the account of the war made
on the Bull and his allies by the Crab and his allies, who are
Thomas a Becket, during the fourteenth and fifteenth cen
turies, was credited with numerous prophecies. Many of these
are in Latin, and concern the ampulla found in the Tower of
London by Richard the Second. These are closely connected
with the political events attending Richard's deposition, and will
therefore be discussed in the next chapter. Some prophecies
relating to the reign of Edward the Third and attributed to
Becket are contained in an alliterative poem written in the
vernacular. 17 In the manuscript the poem is entitled Saint
Thomas of Canterbury. Its abrupt beginning, " Thomas rides
from Rome," and the contents of the first fifty lines might indi
cate that it is a part of a longer poem which dealt with the
travels of Thomas a Becket. There is a much longer version
of the poem in a Northern dialect, perhaps Scottish, which,
however, lacks the first twenty-eight lines. 18 The shorter will
be referred to as the Hatton version, from the manuscript in
whicfi it is found, and the longer for a similar reason, the
Cambridge version. The two differ somewhat in minor details,
but the substance is the same as far as the Hatton extends.
The poem was apparently written shortly after the Battle of
Poitiers in 1356, for this is the last historical event that can be
identified in it. 19
The passage the poet seems to attribute to the prophet does not occur in the
Bridlington prophecies, and nothing like it is to be found there. Besides
this mere mention of the name there is no proof that the author knew any
thing of Bridlington, though its popularity makes it probable. This resem
blance was noted in this study two years before Brandl's publication.
"Printed, Brandl, The Cock in the North, Sitzb., 1187.
17 Ms. Bodleian, Hatton 56, 4Sa-46b.
18 Printed by Lumby, Bernardus de Cura rei familiaris, from Ms. Cam
bridge, Kk, 5. For Hatton version see Appendix 2.
19 Brandl, Paul's Grundriss, Strassburg, 1892, II, 661, thinks it written to
refresh confidence in the aging Edward the Third.
According to the poem, Becket left Rome and went to Pisa
where he found masons at work upon a tower of alabaster near
a neglected shrine of the Virgin. Thomas called the attention
of the master workman to the shrine and the image of the
Virgin within it, and gave him money to provide means of
pilgrimage to it. From Pisa he went to Basel where he
entered a church to celebrate mass. But when he reached for
his missal, he discovered that he had left it at Rome. While
he was at a loss to know what to do, a wonderful book fell
upon the altar. When he left the church he found that some
one had stolen his bridle, whereupon he bade the people get him
another. From Basel he went to Avignon where he knelt and
kissed the ground, and in reply to a question from young
Warrenne prophesied that the place should at some time be the
seat of the papacy.
The material dealing with English affairs begins with
Becket's arrival as Poitiers whither he went from Avignon and
where he was entertained in the house of a burgess. He
asked who owned a castle he saw under construction, and was
told that it was being built at the command of King Charles.
Thereupon Thomas began to prophesy. There shall come,
he said, two Boars from England and ruin the tower and the
town, of whom one shall do much damage to the king and put
him to flight, and the other pasture himself in the choicest
fields of the kingdom. The people who heard these wonderful
words reported them to King Charles, but he declined to cease
the work ' for drede of a boar/ The Boar, said Thomas, shall
be born of French and English blood and shall be matchless
on earth. Thomas then went out into the fields and bade the
masons build three crosses. At the first cross the King of
France, said he, shall fall and lose his crown, at the second
Archbishops and other church dignitaries shall die, at the
third the crown shall fall in a battle of beardless boys. Young
Warrenne made game of the prophecy and vexed Thomas
sorely. Here the Hatton version ends.
The Cambridge version continues for one hundred and four
lines further, and describes in greater detail the Boar's career
in France. The burning of Abbeville and the battles of Mount-
joy, Caen, Calais, and Valois are mentioned. Then an invasion
of the Boar's realm by a King from the North and the Boar's
revenge at Berwick are prophesied. After the capture of
Berwick a battle is predicted at Boulogne in which a two-
headed Bird with fifty thousand men sides with the enemy.
The capture of Paris and the defeat of the Bird follow. After
wards, said the Saint, the Boar shall win Milan, Lombardy,
and the Bird's three crowns, and then go on a crusade to the
Holy Land, whence (it seems) he is not to return. After his
departure the land is to be ruled by women or be desolated by
a pestilence. Marvels such as red rain occur until the people
recognize Christ. Sir Edmund of Abingdon, who has not been
mentioned previously, interrupts by remarking upon the late
ness of the hour. An angel in blue bids Becket close the book,
from which it now appears that he had been reading, and car
ries it up to Heaven. Becket and his companions resume their
journey. So the poem closes.
Neither version of this poem is complete. Even a composite
of the two would seem incomplete. The very beginning is
abrupt. The reference to Becket's companions without previ
ous description might indicate that a portion of the poem has
been lost, in which the circumstances of the travels were
described and the experiences of the party in Rome narrated, or
perhaps that the original of both versions was a transcript or
paraphrase of a part of a longer work. Such tags as 'this
book tells' would indicate that the writer had his eye on a
larger work. 20 Neither version is a part of the other, for they
differ too frequently and too widely. The Hatton version
names at first two Boars, which can stand only for Edward the
Third and the Black Prince. The Cambridge version mentions
only one Boar. According to it King Charles abandons the
20 Cf. lines 40 and 41 Hatton Version ;
" This Thomas went on his wey as he wele myght
ij days journey as }?e boke tellis."
At times these references to ' The Book ' are made to the Book of Prophe
cies from which Becket is reading. Of course one knows that it was a
convention of Middle English poetry to refer to a mythical Book as author
ity. This reference may amount to nothing more.
work at Poitiers, and Becket finishes it in order that the Boar
may have a place of rest when he invades France. The proph
ecy regarding the tower is not made by Becket, but is found
by the workmen engraved mysteriously on a stone. A prayer
of Becket's to Our Lady is different in the two.
This poem is more closely related to the Six Kings than to
the other prophecies discussed in this chapter. In both the
Boar is used for Edward the Third with the combined charac
teristics of the two Boars in The Book of Merlin. But in this
prophecy the metaphor of the Boar and his tusks is carried
further in the references to the damage done by the tusks.
The beginning of the Boar's reign is described in both proph
ecies in similar terms. According to The Six Kings,
" He sail have trey and tene in biginning,
To chistise misdoers of wrang lifing.
And als thurgh felnes sej>in sail he seke,
Till he have made be folk als lamb to be meke " ;
according to the Becket prophecy,
" This bore in his barnhede shall many noians abide
& in ]?e myddes with peynes be prikked on every side
J?is bore shall he makeless for mercy him folowes
after J>at he pas the pase of many grete sorowes."
Both allow the Boar three crowns but not the same ones. In
The Six Kings they seem to be the crowns of Spain, France,
and Aragon. In the Becket prophecy they are not named, but
they seem to be won from the two-headed bird: 21 The Crusade-
episode, deriving originally from the Last-King-of-Rome
story, is found in both, but this poem makes more detailed men
tion of Famagosta, Cyprus, and Jaffa as places visited on the
21 The Two-headed Bird probably stands for the Emperor of the Holy
Roman Empire, who is referred to as the Eagle in another prophecy on the
French Wars, The Prophecy of the Lion, the Lily, and the Son of Man.
A version of this was printed by Todd, Last Age, p. Ixxxiv. The Eagle
from the East comes at first to the aid of The Son of Man (Edward the
Third, according to an interpretation in a manuscript described by Ward,
Cat. I. 318) but loses his crown to the Lily (France). When the Lily lost
it, the Son of Man was crowned with it. In this prophecy, the Son of
Man takes the cross and makes a crusade to the Holy Land.
way. The greater part of the prophetic material, however,
seems to have been written for the occasion. Other animal
symbols than the Boar are few. The King of France is
referred to by name as Charles, but which of the French Kings
so named one cannot say. 22
Thomas of Erceldoune has received more attention than
any of the poems just discussed because of the romantic
material in the first fytte, but the prophetic material in the
third and fourth fyttes has been neglected. The reason for
this neglect is probably that too little English vaticinal literature
has been published to give much assistance in studying, and
that material for the study of the romance has been easily
accessible. The question as to the origin of the romantic
material does not concern this study, and must, therefore,
be passed over. 23
According to the story, Thomas, while lounging under a
tree by Huntlybanks one fine morning in May, saw a lovely
lady come riding towards him holding three grayhounds in a
leash. He mistook her for the Virgin, and ran to meet her at
Eildon Tree. He accosted her as the Queen of Heaven, but
was told that she was quite a different personage. Then
Thomas, overcome with her beauty, entreated her love, which
she granted. But she lost her beauty in consequence and
required Thomas to do penance by accompanying her and
dwelling with her one year. Accordingly, she led him into an
underground passage at Eldonhill knee-deep in water. After
three days she brought him into a beautiful orchard, the fruit
23 The only Charles that ruled in France after the Carolingians and before
the accession of Charles the Fifth in 1364 was Charles the Fourth, the last
of the Capetians in the direct line, whose death in 1328 was one cause of
the Hundred Years' War. It was, perhaps, this name Charles that led
Lumby to think the poem referred to the wars of Henry the Fifth. The
name may have been substituted in the fifteenth century for some other
name that stood there originally. The poem may have been used in the
fifteenth century to glorify Henry the Fifth, but it was undoubtedly written
23 Those who are interested in the romantic features will find an excellent
treatment of the subject in Josephine M. Burnham's A Study of Thomas of
Erceldoune, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America,
vol. 23, p. 375 f.
of which she forbade him to pluck. There she bade him halt
and look at a castle in the distance, which she gave him to
understand was her home. While she spoke, she underwent a
transformation and regained all her lost beauty. After blow
ing her horn she led the way to the castle, where she and
Thomas were heartily welcomed. Thomas dwelt in the castle
in happiness until one day the lady told him that it was time to
return. He prepared himself for the journey, and followed
her back to Eldonhill. But as the Lady turned to leave him,
he asked her to give him a token and to tell him a wonder.
She gave him the prophecies.
The events prophesied in the second fytte are historical and
can be easily identified. The battles of Halidon Hill, Falkirk,
Bannockburn, Kinghorn, Duplin Moor, Hexham, Durham, and
Otterburn are named or referred to in evident terms. The
younger Baliol, David Bruce, and Robert Steward are named
as kings of Scotland at different times. Symbols are few. The
Goshawk is used for David Bruce, the Raven for Edward the
Third, and the Tercelet for Baliol and various unnamed Scots.
The events prophesied in the third fytte are unhistorical.
A battle is prophesied at Spinkard Clough where the Scots
are victorious, and another at Pentland Hill, after which the
English invade France. Apparently they return to worry
Scotland, and fight three great battles, the first between Seton
and the sea, the second on Claydonsmoor or Gladsmoor, the
third at Sandy ford. At the second battle three kings are slain,
and a raven comes flying over the moor followed by a crow.
At the third battle the English seem from the context to be led
by a Bastard from the South. This Bastard is to die in the
Holy Land. At the time of his death Scotland is to be in a
deplorable condition. The lords of the land are all slain, and
their heiresses marry their former servants. Thomas then asks
after Black Agnes of Dunbar, who had once put him in prison,
and is told that she will meet an inglorious fate in London.
The Lady after this prophecy says farewell and leaves him.
The poem closes with a short supplication to Christ ' to bring us
to Thy hall on high/ As in the second fytte symbols are few,
being limited to a Raven, a Crow, and a Bastard.
The vaticinal matter in the second fytte is easily enough
understood, and was evidently manufactured for the occasion.
The five battles, the three kings, the Raven, the Crow, and
the Bastard in the third fytte are not so easily explained. They
seem unhistorical, at least they have not been identified. They
do not occur in the earlier prophecies, but are important epi
sodes in later versions of this same material made as late as
15 15. 24 The expectation of the battles lasted long. Barnet
(i47i) 25 and Prestonpans (i745) 25 were both identified as
Gladsmoor. Spinkard Clough was considered fulfilled in
Pinkie Cleugh (i546). 25 The three kings, who are here name
less, appear in the later versions as the Kings of Spain, Den
mark, and Norway. Bridlington's prophecy concerning the
assistance given the King of Scotland by the King of Denmark
may have helped to perpetuate this particular episode. A short
passage found in only one manuscript 26 describes the armorial
bearings of four great lords who take part in the war against
the Scots ; the first bears a red lion in his banner, the second a
ship with a golden anchor, the third a wolf carrying a naked
child in his mouth, and the fourth a bear bound to a stake. 27
In some versions the number of these lords is increased to eight,
but these four remain the same. In the other versions also they
are not enumerated together, but appear at different parts of
the narrative. The Raven and the Crow are found only in
some, but the Bastard occurs in all.
The poem contains only one episode that shows the influence
of earlier material. The Lady in describing the hopeless con
dition of Scotland after the Battle of Sandyford, bursts into
tears and says,
" Bot for ladyes, sail wed laddys ynge,
When ]?air lordes ar ded awaye.
He sail hafe stedes in stabill fed,
24 See Murray, Thomas of Erceldoune, Appendices i, ii and iii, and
Brandl, Thomas of Erceldoun, p. 118, for these variant versions.
25 Murray, supra, xlii, xliii, Ixxviii.
28 Thornton Manuscript, Murray, supra, p. 38.
27 Brandl, supra, p. 140, endeavors to identify these lords, but can fix with
certainty on only one symbol, the Bear and the Staff, which stands for
Warwick. None of the other symbols fit exactly the heraldic bearings of
the families he names.
A hawke to here appon his hand,
A lufly lady to his bedd :
His elders byfore had no land." 28
This is a development of a line in an older prophecy attributed
to Thomas of Erceldoune, who had made it in answer to a
question of the Countess of Dunbar as to when the Scottish
wars should cease. His answer runs : 29
" When people have made a king of a capped man ;
When another man's thing is dearer to one than his own ;
When Loudyon is Forest, and Forest is field ;
When hares litter on the hearth stone ; 30
When Wit and Will war together;
When people make stables of churches, and set castles in styes ;
When Roxburgh is no burgh, and market is at Forwylie ;
When the old is gone and the new is come that is worth nought ;
When Bannockburn is dunged with dead men ;
When people lead men in ropes to buy and sell ;
When a quarter of ' indifferent ' wheat is exchanged for a colt of ten
When pride rides on horseback, and peace is put in prison ;
When a Scot cannot hide like a hare in a form that the English
cannot find him ;
When right and wrong assent together ;
When lads marry ladies ; 31
When Scots flee so fast that for want of ships they drown themselves ;
When shall this be ? Neither in thy time nor in mine ;
But (shall) come and go within twenty winters and one."
In its setting and framework this poem resembles very much
a Northumbrian ballad relating to the Scottish wars. 32 The
story is related in the first person by a traveler. The fairy
28 Brandl, supra, 114; Murray, supra, 44.
29 This is a modernized version printed by Murray, p. Ixxxvi. The orig
inal is printed at page xviii. Murray apologized for the modernized version,
saying that he had been asked so frequently what the older version meant
that he considered it necessary.
30 Referred to by Andrew Lang in Ballade of Autumn, Ballades in Blue
China, London, 1888, p. 48.
31 Lads in its original meaning of ' farm-hand,' Murray, Ixxxvi.
32 Printed Langtoft's Chronicle, Rolls Series, London, 1866, 2 vols., vol.
2, appendix from a manuscript of the late thirteenth or early fourteenth
century. See also Ward, I, 300.
motive is introduced, but the fairy is a ' little man ' and not a
' lady gay/ The ballad begins,
Als y yod on ay Monday
bytwene Wyltinden and Walle
Me ane aftere brade waye
ay litel man y mette withalle,
The leste that evere I, sothe to say,
oither in boure oither in halle;
His robe was noithere grene na gray,
but alle yt was of riche palle."
The dwarf bade the traveler stop and wait for him. When the
two had met, the dwarf led the way into a beautiful garden
where lords lolled at ease and ladies sang in the corners. The
traveler interrogated his guide concerning the Scottish wars
and their result. He was told that a Mole was in Scotland on
guard, and that a Boar lay south of the Humber, bound fast in a
pasture by fools and watched by the Mole. At length the Boar
should escape from his den, but he was to be held long by a
Leopard. After a great battle fought south of the Tweed the
Boar should win the land, although the Lion should go to fetch
it. T beside an L connected with Ed as a thread should be
This ballad is unsatisfactory in every way, for little can be
made of it. The stanzas and the lines seem badly confused
and disarranged. But it shows one thing, a prophecy dealing
with Scottish Wars was written in ballad meter and with a fairy
motive introduced. Nothing in the ballad, however, is repeated
in Thomas of Erceldoune. The dwarf-motive occurs in two
later versions of the same material, The Prophecie of Thomas
Rymour* 3 and The Prophecies of Rymour, Beid, and
Marlyng. 3 * In both the visit to the garden is omitted, and the
prophecy occurs as a vision. Both contain references to the
battles of Gladsmoor, Sandyford, and the one between Seton
and the sea.
It has been said previously that the romance in Thomas of
Erceldoune had received the most study. Professor Child 35
" Murray, Erceldoun, p. 48.
34 Supra, p. 52. Cf. the opening stanza of the ballad, The -wee, wee man.
35 Quoted by Murray, supra, p. xxvi.
once wrote that the second and third fyttes were additions to
the romance made by an unskillful hand. Murray dissented. 36
Si,nce the later versions of Erceldoune omit the romance and
revert to the setting of the ballad, it seems probable that the
earliest form contained only the vaticinal elements, and that the
romantic elements were a later addition. It is true that the
Lady appears in the later poems clad in much the same fashion
as in this poem, but she is the Queen of Heaven and makes no
prophecy. The second fytte can easily be explained as the
necessary amount of history told as prophecy, such as was con
ventional in vaticinal writing. It is true that no part of the
prophetic material in the ballad recurs in these later poems.
But the printed version is incomplete, and is, perhaps, not the
only version. 37
The date of Thomas of Erceldoune is uncertain. Murray
and Brandl concur in the view that it was written in 1400.
Murray 38 bases his conclusions on his interpretation of the
" Tell me of this gentill blode
Wha sail thrife, and wha sail thee?
Wha sail be kynge, wha sail be nane,
And wha sail welde J>is north countre ? " w
He thinks this a question as to the conflicting claims of the
Bruce and Balliol families, which would not have been made
after the extinction of the Balliols. The passage probably
refers to the Bruce-Baliol quarrel, for it comes early enough in
the second fytte which deals with the Wars of the Scottish Suc
cession. But it seems scarcely sufficient evidence to prove the
Brandl's theory is much more elaborate. He finds 40 that the
38 Supra, xxvi.
37 Cf. " betwene the walcoen & the wall
this lytyll man mett with me,
tolde me this proffecy all,
And what tyme it shuld be." The last stanza of The Proph-
isies of Rymour, Beid, and Marlyng.
38 Murray, Thomas of Erceldoune, xxv.
39 Brandl, Thomas of Erceldoun, p. 94.
40 Brandl, supra, 30.
key to the whole prophecy is contained in next to the last
stanza of the first fytte which reads :
" Ferre owtt over gone mountane graye,
Thomas, my fawkon bygges his neste,
A fawkon is an erons praye,
Forthi in na place may he rest."
He understands this as referring to a conflict between two
birds, and finds that all the symbols in the poem are taken
from the names of birds. He interprets the Heron as Henry
the Fourth, who while Duke of Lancaster had been referred
to in political poems under the symbol. In other prophecies
of this same period Henry was called aquila, ' egle,' and
' fawkon.' The Bastard ' born in South England ' Brandl con
siders also a bird and likewise interprets it as Henry the
Fourth, but he finds no examples of its use for the same man
in other political poems. If the Heron is a king of England,
it is evident from the lines quoted that the falcon must be a
king of Scotland. Finding that David Bruce is called in the
prophecy Falcon and Goshawk, 41 Brandl considers his inter
pretation proved correct. Since the battles named in the third
fytte never occurred in any historical invasion of Scotland, he
reaches the conclusion that the poem must have been written
before Henry's invasion in August, 1400. He then argues that
it must have been written after Henry's accession and while
there was a rumor of the invasion, and fixes the date as 1400.
The poem may have been written in 1400. There is no satis
factory proof either that it was or was not written then. One
must confess, however, that Brandl's theory is not very satis
fying. Its plausibility lies in the degree of correctness with
which the symbols have been interpreted. Its weakness lies in
the interpretation of the poem. In the longer prophecies, such
as those described in this chapter, great consistency is observed
in the use of symbols, only one being used for one individual.
This is true also of the shorter prophecies. A poet who could
41 Brandl, supra, 101.
plan so carefully the contents of the three fyttes 42 and could
announce so neatly at the close of the first the key to the con
tents of the other two, would in all likelihood have taken pains
not to confuse the symbols. He has done this in the second
fytte. But if Brandl's theory be correct, this passage fn the
first fytte and the whole of the third fytte would be inconsistent
with the second and the symbols would be used confusedly.
The Falcon, 43 if it represents the King of Scotland as Brandl
supposes, would have to be applied to three different men,
David the Second, Robert the Second, and Robert the Third.
The Heron would apply to only one man, Henry the Fourth.
In the poem, 43 the Falcon is used only for David the Second.
His conqueror, Edward the Third, is not called the Heron but
the Raven. It is rather strange, too, that the Heron should be
used in this key-note passage as a symbol for a man who is
never again called by it, but who is called by another entirely
different symbol, the Bastard, when he is introduced. Brandl's
theory is interesting, but it does not solve the problem.
Another obstacle to dating the poem at 1400 is the lack of
continuity in the narration of events. Throughout the his
torical parts with one exception the narrative is continuous
down to the Battle of Otterburn with which the second fytte
closes. According to the order of events in the prophecy, four
great battles and an invasion of France occur before the acces
sion of Henry the Fourth, if the Bastard be Henry the Fourth.
It is rather strange that the author was so untrue to history,
if he wrote in 1399 or 1400 after the time for which these
events had been prophesied. The only battle predicted to
follow the Bastard's accession is Sandyford, One might avoid
the difficulty to some extent by referring these battles to
Richard the Second's invasion of Scotland in 1185 a rather
doubtful explanation, but he cannot so easily explain the
invasion of France. Futhermore, Brandl himself confesses
that these five battles are all unhistorical.
42 It is worthy of notice that the poet, while he devoted fifty-nine stanzas
to the romance according to Brandl's reconstructed text, divided the proph
etic portions rather nicely, giving forty-four stanzas to the second fytte and
forty-three to the third.
43 Line 448; Brandl, supra, 101 ; Murray, supra, 28.
If none of the five battles or the invasion of France is an
echo of actual events, the last historical event described in the
poem is the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. An interval of twelve
years in which four of the great battles are fought intervenes
before the accession of Henry the Fourth, 'The Bastard,' in
1400. Since the battles are not historical, the third fytte must
obviously have been written before the time for which the first
of them was prophesied, and therefore before the year 1400.
It might be argued that the accession of the Bastard should come
at the beginning of the fytte and precede all the battles, but
there is no manuscript authority for such an arrangement.
Furthermore, one of the fundamental conventions of the genre
would be violated, for in all the prophecies the imaginary events
are described as immediately following the real. In this poem
an awkward interval of twelve years would fall between the
real and the fictitious. It is not sufficient to say that the real
purpose of the poem is to narrate only the history of the wars
between England and Scotland. Such is not the case, for
Richard's invasion of Scotland is not mentioned and an irre
levant invasion of France is introduced. Moreover, the events
in the second fytte are told as if the point of view was from
Scotland, but in the third fytte the main interest is in England
and in English affairs. It is thus seen that any interpretation
of the poem which depends upon the identity of the Heron or
the Bastard with Henry the Fourth is unsatisfactory. If the
third fytte is purely vaticinal and the Heron in the key-note
passage is not Henry the Fourth, the fytte is best considered a
' melange of traditional prophecies ' that could have been made
at any time, and from which no evidence in regard to the date
can be drawn. The poem was written after 1388. As there is
no evidence to show that it was written after 1400, it was prob
ably written before that year. The date cannot be fixed more
accurately from the evidence now at hand.
The author of the poem is unknown. Brandl supposed 44
him to have been an inhabitant of Northern England.
Murray 45 thinks him a Scot and is inclined to believe that he
44 Brandl, Thomas of Erceldoun, 42.
45 Murray, Thomas of Erceldoune, xxvi f.
may have put into his poem some prophecies made originally
by the real Thomas of Erceldoune. 46
The four prophecies discussed in this chapter represent in
many ways the genre at its climax. As was said in the begin
ning of this chapter the prophecies after 1500 become too
numerous to be discussed at any length. Many of them will
be mentioned in connection with the later chapters of the study.
Attention must now be turned to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland,
although the prophetic material of these countries can be
treated only in the most cursory fashion.
The date at which Scottish prophecy began cannot now be
46 A real Thomas of Erceldoune seems to have existed in the latter part
of the thirteenth century. In 1199 (or 1194 as Murray says) Thomas de
Ercildoun, son and heir of Thomas Rymour de Ercildoun, deeded to
Trinity House, Soltra, the lands which he had inherited from his father in
Ercildoun. Thomas Rymour de Ercildoun occurs as a witness to a grant
made to Melrose Abbey by Petrus de Haga who lived about 1220. This
Thomas is said to have foretold the death of Alexander the Third of
Scotland in 1286. The Harleian prophecy, quoted above, anticipating the
Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, is said to have been made by Thomas
twenty years earlier. These four dates comprise all the evidence, and the
last two are traditional.
The prediction of the death of King Alexander was made in answer to a
question put him by Dunbar, the Earl of March, as to what another day
would bring forth. Thomas fetched a sigh and said to this effect : " Alas
for tomorrow, a day of calamity and misery ! Before the twelfth hour
shall be heard a blast so vehement that it shall exceed all those that have
yet been heard in Scotland ; a blast which shall strike the nations with
amazement, shall confound those who hear it, shall humble what is lofty,
and what is unbending shall level to the ground." The news of the King's
death announced at dinner the next day was interpreted as the blast fore
told by Thomas. One easily sees that the prophecy is only a weather
forecast. The story seems not to be older than the fifteenth century, and
is first told by Bower in his continuation of Fordun (Murray xiii). It
shows only that Thomas was a weather-wise hanger-on of the Dunbar
family. The earliest reference to Thomas and his prophecies is made
by Barbour (The Bruce, II, 85 f.) in connection with the murder of the
Red Comyn. Thomas, whoever he was, wherever and whenever he lived,
very early got a reputation for prophetic skill. Tradition assigned him
certain prophecies. No more can be said. There is not the slightest evi
dence that he had any literary ability. The attribution of Sir Tristrem
to him is only an attempt to unite a bookless author and an authorless
determined. Barbour's account of the vaticinal tapestry made
by St. Margaret naturally inspires doubt. According to it 47
this saintly queen had made a picture of Edinburgh castle repre
senting a man scaling the wall, with the motto, Gardes vous de
Frangois, which was interpreted as predicting the capture of
Edinburgh by a man named Frangois or Francis. Some early
prophecy must have been circulated under the name of Thomas
of Erceldoune, as frequent references are made by fourteenth
century writers to such predictions.
The earliest extant prophecies dealing with Scottish affairs
are in Latin, and relate to the wars of the Scottish Succession.
They present a singular difficulty, because, being in Latin, one
can tell only by the general tone whether any one of them is
Scottish or English in origin. Frequently the reader is uncer
tain whether a prophecy was written by the English, or by the
English party among the Scots themselves. The Latin poem
Ecce dies veniunt, Scoti sine principe fiunt,
relating to the deposition of Baliol, and the final overthrow of
the Scottish kingdom is obviously English in sentiment, and
may easily be referred to English authorship. The poem, like
wise in Latin, beginning, 49
Regnum Scotorum fuit inter caetera regna,
outlining the history of Scotland to the accession of John
Baliol and prophesying the final defeat of the English inter
saxosum fontem castrumtfwe nodosum seems to be Scottish in
origin. Another prophecy ascribed to Sibylla is found with it
and may be a continuation of it. According to Sibylla a king
of the North should greatly afflict the Scots. The aliens in
Scotland were also to perish through the trickery of the Scots.
In the war a French leader was to fall by the sword of his
brother. At length the Welsh were to make a compact with
47 Barbour, Bruce, x, 737-755.
48 Langtoft, Rolls Series, vol. 2, p. 448 f.
49 Pinkerton, Enquiry into the History of Scotland, London, 1789, p. 499 f.
A version slightly different is printed in Wright and Halliwell's Reliquiae
Antiquae, vol. 2, 26, 246.
the Scots and regain control of the island restoring the old
name as the Eagle had predicted. 50 These verses are fre
quently attributed to Gildas who, according to this version,
drew his inspiration from Christ. The order of the episodes
does not remain the same in all the versions.
Prophecies in the Scottish dialect seem not to have existed
before the fifteenth century. The extant versions are even
more recent. They were collected at the time of James the
Sixth's accession to the English throne, and printed in 1603 as
The Whole Prophesie of Scotland?'*- The prophecies in the
collection are attributed to Merlin, Bede, Bridlington (spelled
Bertlington), Thomas Rymour, Waldhave, Eltraine, Sibylla,
Banister, and Gildas. They deal with the history of Scotland
in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and employ the usual
animal-symbolism, which seems to consist both of heraldic and
of arbitrary symbols. Some of the prophecies are in allitera
tive long lines, some in rime, some in combination of rime and
alliteration. One is in prose. With the exception of a few
in Latin that cover about two pages they are written in Scottish.
In arranging the collection some attempt seems to have been
made to preserve a roughly chronological order in regard to
the events narrated.
The first prophecy in the collection has no title, but is
attributed to Merlin in the first line. The reference in the fifth
line to the calling to Cadwallider of Cornwall and to the defeat
of the Wolf out of Wales, after which the events of the
prophecy occur, connect it with some particular prophecy that
has not come to notice. Cadwallider is certainly an echo of
traditional material. The real prophecy begins with the
supremacy of the Lion in the North, and the defeat of the Bear
by a Storm from the South and the Bear's death in a foreign
land. Then a Freik fostered far in the South (apparently
James the First) returns to the kith and governs it to the dis
comfort of the Crab and other banished nobles. The death of
the king in a fen after a reign remarkable for the covetous-
80 In a Latin prophecy against Edward the Third (Reliquiae Antiquae,
vol. 2, p. 25) this overthrow of the English seems predicted for 1381. The
compact between Wales and Scotland occurs in later prophecies.
51 Reprinted for the Bannatyne Club, vol. 44, Edinburgh, 1833.
ness of the chief ruler is then predicted. By far the greater
part of the prophecy follows. It is perhaps to be regarded as
portraying a chronological succession of events, but any in
terpretation is doubtful and difficult because of the obscurity of
After the fall of the Freik seven years of trouble were
prophesied. The Crab and the Cock however escaped the
danger. The Raven with his rouping frightened many from
Caithness to Cornwall. The Gled climbed to great power and
became careless of his lord, the Lion. The Graip wished to
grasp absolute power. The crowing of the Cock announced
his coming and frightened everyone, especially the false Fox
and the Fulmart. A conspiracy was formed by the Raven,
the Rook, the Kid, and the Buck. The Birds of the Raven
plundered Lothian, and did great harm to the abbeys on the
Tweed. A period of lawlessness prevailed for five years when
no man trusted another, not even the father his son or the son
his father. But peace was finally established by a council
called for the purpose, which however did not last long. An
Eagle's nesting in a forest disturbed the peace. War was re
newed, and a battle fought in the North beside a stock cross
which was so completely covered with corpses that the Crow
could not tell where the cross stood. Then a Wolf became
watchman and remained faithful to his lord, the Lion. A
great fleet was got together under the command of the Three
Leopards and a fleur de lys. Then a Hunter came from the
South and won a battle in Fife. 52
After an interruption the prophecy is resumed with a version
of the Cock in the North. The ballad meter is discarded after
the first twelve lines. The Cock built his nest in the North
and then prepared to flee, but Fortune at the last moment seems
to have favored him. The Moon rose in the Northwest and a
Lion, the strongest and best in Britain since Arthur's days, was
set free. A dreadful Dragon came to the aid of the Lion, but
63 The succession of events is interrupted at this point by a prophecy
concerning what should happen when the moon was full and when the
crags of Tarbat fell into the sea. The writer of the prophecy then pre
sents as proof of his veracity the statement that he had seen the books
of Merlin, Bede, and Banister, and had found that they agreed.
the Bear, apparently the leader of the opposing faction, was
joined by a Bull and a Bastard. A Leopard of native stock, a
Horse, an Antelope, a Bear, a Brock, and a proud Prince par
ticipated in the conflict, which seems to have taken place ' twixt
Seton and the sea.' The Lion was injured but victorious in
the end, and captured the Fox, the Fulmart, the Piper, the Pie,
and the friends of the Fox. 'Troy untrue' (England)
trembled for dread of a dread man, for the commons welcomed
him and gave him the key to the realm. The Sun and the
Moon both shone bright and proceeded safely on their courses,
as Bridlington, Banister, Merlin, Thomas Rymour, and others
had prophesied. Then it was reported that the Saxons had
chosen a king. A dead man rose and was cared for by a young
knight, who won a battle in Surrey, went on a crusade, and
died in the Vale of Jehosaphat. 53
53 Brandl's edition of the English Cock in the North has already been
mentioned. He thinks the poem was written in Northern England at the
time of the Percy-Glendower rebellion. The Cock he understands as a
symbol for Hotspur, the Moon for the House of Percy, the Dragon for
Glendower, the Bull for the Nevilles, the Star of Bethlehem for a comet
that appeared in 1402, and the Lion for Douglas and the Scottish auxiliaries.
But here he stops with his work of interpretation half done. One would
like to know the originals of the Boar (Bear in the Scottish version), the
Bastard, the Leopard, the Mole (not in the Scottish), the Mermaiden (not in
the Scottish), the Eagle, the Antelope, the Bear, the Bridled Horse, the Proud
Prince, the Fox, the Fulmart, the Picard (Piper in the Scottish), the Pie,
the friends of the Fox, and the Dead Man. In both versions the Lion is
victorious and reigns in peace the rest of his life, a strange prediction to
be made by any Englishman if the Lion represented Douglas or any other
Scottish power. The Cock and the Moon are completely forgotten after
the first two stanzas and can in no way be considered the heroes of the
prophecy. They are really of no more importance than the others, the Fox
and the Fulmart for example. The reference to London and the English
Nation as ' Troy Untrue ' would be more consistent from a Scot or Welsh
man. Furthermore, an English writer of a prophecy on English affairs
would scarcely consider it necessary to refer to the English people as ' The
Saxons.' The Bastard is found as a symbol in this prophecy which must
have been written, if Brandl is correct in his conjectures, about the same
time as Thomas of Erceldoune. In the latter he interpreted the figure as a
symbol for Henry the Fourth, for whom it could as easily stand in this
prophecy, but he does not so interpret it.
Since the interpretation of the poem from the point of view of English
Every prophecy in The Whole Prophecy of Scotland is in
teresting, but space for detailed study of each is lacking.
Episodes are repeated with slight variations in the different
poems. References to the battles of Gladsmoor, Sandyford,
and ' twixt Seton and the sea ' are frequent. The Prophecy
of Bertlington contains an interesting episode :
affairs breaks down, and since the English version is undeniably in a
Northern Dialect, it seems not unreasonable to suppose that the poem is
originally Scottish. If the Scottish authorship is granted, it becomes more
easy to understand the poem. The hero is clearly the Lion. In other pre
dictive poems of this same collection the Lion is invariably used as a
heraldic symbol for the King of Scotland. If the poem were English, the
Lion would have to represent Henry the Fourth, and would be an exception
to the other English prophecies. If the Lion is the King of Scotland, his
victory is then perfectly reasonable. The Cock and the Moon then become
only two participants in a war against the king instead of the protagonists,
which they would have to be if Brandl were correct, and which they clearly
are not. Furthermore, the Cock occurs at least twice before in the earlier
part of the Scottish prophecy in company with the Fox and the Fulmart, and
plays the part of a mischiefmaker. If the poem is Scottish, the reference to
' Troy Untrue ' and to ' The Saxons ' is much more rational.
If Brandl's interpretation is discarded and the poem acknowledged to be
Scottish, there is no indication of the date until a proper interpretation is
found. The present version may be as old as the English version, or even
The Cock in the North may have been the prophecy which Deschamps
had in mind when he wrote in his ballade Contre I'Angleterre,
L'aigle venrra des marches d'Aquilon,
O ses poicins, seoir en Northumbrie;
D'un autre Us passera le lion
O ses cheaulx, plains de forsenerie;
Deux lieux prandra qui aront seigneurie
Et destruiront le Nort crueusement ;
Et le pais qui anciennement
Put renommez d'aventures aussi
Se doit tourner a leur destruisement,
Tant qu'on dira: Angleterre fut cy.
The following stanza predicts an alliance between Scotland, France, and
' li ancien Breton ' to the undoing of England. The last lines of the
stanza quoted seem to echo the end of The Six Kings,
(Cf. Eustache Deschamps, Oeuvres Completes, ed. Le Marquis de Queux
de Saint-Hilaire, Anciens Textes Frangais, vol. i, Paris, 1878, p. 106.)
" Of Bruce's left side shall spring out a leaf
As neer as the ninth degree,
And shall be flemed of faire Scotland,
In France farre beyond the sea,
And then shall come again riding,
With eyes that many men may see,
At Aberladie he shall light,
With hempen holters and hors of tree,
On Gosford greene it shall be scene,
On Gladsmoor shall the battle be,
Now Albanie thou make thee boun,
At his bidding be thou prompt
He shall deil both towre and towne,
His guifts shal stand for ever more."
Later in the prophecy occurs a theme afterwards united with
" The Frenche wife shall beare the Sonne
Shal welde al Bretane to the sea,
And from the Bruce's blood shall come
As neere as the ninth degree."
Lord Hailes analyzed this prophecy, and showed that it was
intended originally for John, Duke of Albany, the grandson
of James the Second. 5 *
The Prophecie of Thomas Rymour deals with the battles of
Flodden and Pinkie, and closes with the prediction that the
French Wife's Son should become King of Britain. It begins
with the narrator's account of his meeting with a bairn upon
the way and the vision he saw of a tilting match between Saint
Andrew and Saint George, which was interrupted by the inter
vention of the Virgin. The bairn delivered the prophecy in
answer to a question from the narrator as to the meaning of
the vision. James the Fourth is referred to as the Red Lion.
The Scottish and English leaders are called by heraldic symbols.
Allusion is made to the story that James the Fourth did not
die at Flodden, and to the expectation of his return.
The rest of the prophecies in the collection, except the
last, do not call for special comment. The last- is attributed to
51 Hailes, Remarks on the History of Scotland, Chapter III which deals
with Thomas of Erceldoune. Published in Annals of Scotland, 3 vols.,
Edinburgh, 1819, vol. 3, p. 41 f.
the Queen of Sheba in her character of Sibyl. It seems to
have been written by a person acquainted with The Six Kings.
The conflict between the Wolf, the Dragon, and the Lion is
described. The ' Moldwerp accursed of God' is one of the
figures. But new material fitting the different subject is intro
duced and given the chief importance.
The Scots seem to have learned to write prophecies from
the English model. They used the same kind of symbols in the
same manner. On occasions they borrowed their material and
adapted it to their own purposes whenever they wished. They,
perhaps, gave something to the English in the original
Erceldoune legend and in The Cock in the North. The acces
sion of James the Sixth to the throne of England seems for a
time to have fulfilled the Scottish prophecies. But they were
not forgotten, and were brought to light when the changed
political fortunes of the Stuarts gave an excuse and the need
for the prediction of a bright and glorious career in the indefi
It is now time to give the attention to Welsh prophecies. It
has been shown in the second chapter of this book that the
Welsh had predictive poems dealing with events earlier than
Goeffrey's translation of Merlin's prophecies, but that none of
the extant Welsh poems is the original of the translation. It
was % shown also by the testimony of John of Cornwall and
Giraldus Cambrensis that collections of prophetic sayings
ascribed to Merlin existed in the twelfth century, and by the
evidence of Giraldus that fragments of these prophecies were
in the mouths of all Welshmen. In the course of the discus
sion as to Geoffrey's sources occasion arose to speak of certain
of the Welsh predictive poems that may have antedated The
Book of Merlin.
The poems classed by Skene 55 as Predictive Poems relating
to Cadwaladyr are largely traditional; that is, they do not con
tain references to events of the twelfth or following centuries.
They deal chiefly with the return of Cadwaladyr, his coalition
with Conan, and the victory of their combined forces over the
English. This theme, as was shown in the second chapter, be-
68 Skene, Four Ancient Books, i, pp. 436-446.
came traditional and was echoed in The Book of Merlin. It
is also repeated in the Welsh poems that contain references to
later events, which Skene 56 has classed as Poems which contain
references to Henry, or the Son of Henry. Some of them, as
the Afallenau, seem to be newer versions of old material. The
method of the prophecy in these poems is not the Galfridian
but the direct. An exception to this statement should be made
in the case of such traditional symbols as the Bear of Deheu-
barth which occur at rare intervals. None of the symbols
found in The Book of Merlin can be identified in these poems.
Stephens 57 speaks of other predictive poems which he dates
later than 1135. They are the Arymes Prydain Vawr (The
Destiny of Great Britain), Armes (The Oracle), and a poem
attributed to Meugant and forming the link of connection
between Cadwaladyr and Conan. So little is said of these
poems, however, that nothing can be determined concerning
the prophetic method used in them. According to the few
indications one can get, it was not the Galfridian.
The Prophecy of the Eagle at Salisbury, as The Giraldian
Collection is frequently called, exists in a Welsh version. 58
'A prediction of Merlin before Arthur is referred to in the
Historia but is not given. It exists in a Welsh form. 58 The
Book of Merlin was translated into Welsh with the rest of the
Historia. 59 The Prophecy of Merddin Emrys occurs in the
Hengwrt Manuscripts with other prophecies in Welsh, Eng
lish, and Latin. 60 Unfortunately this material has not been
accessible for this study. The Welsh had prophecies relating
to political events echoes of which can be got in the poems of
the bards. lolo Goch addressed a poem to Owen Glendower
in which, in its English translation, this couplet occurs,
" Let hundreds swell their voices high
In him fulfilling prophecy." 61
56 Supra, i, 462-496.
67 Stephens, Literature of the Kymry, p. 285 f.
68 Supra, p. 313 f.
59 Ward, loc. cit., i, p. 256.
60 See Charles Wilkins, A History of the Literature of Wales from 1300
to 1650, Cardiff, 1884, p. 202 f. for list of Hengwrt Ms.
61 Translated by Howel W. Lloyd, Y Cymmrodor, vol. 6, p. 98.
The bards saw in the death of Prince Edward of Lancaster
and in Henry Tudor's becoming the representative of the
Lancastrian dynasty the fulfillment of the prophecies of Mer
lin and Taliessin that a Welshman would be crowned in Lon
don. They recalled the mysterious prognostications, the
brudiau, which foretold that the name of the Welsh deliverer
would be Owen. 62 Rhys ap Griffith used in his uprising
against Henry the Eighth a prophecy that James with the Red
Hand and the Ravens should conquer England. Red Hand
refers to the mythical Owen Llawgoch, Ravens to the family of
Dynevor to which Rhys belonged. 63 This fragment shows a
use'of the Galfridian method. Sir John Harington quotes in
his Tract on the Succession to the Crown (i6o2) 64 two Welsh
prophecies which he paraphrases for the English reader. The
second was made in the time of Henry the Eighth, but the first
was written before the time of Sir John's great-grandfather.
It promised that a babe marked with a Lion, who should be
crowned in his cradle, should unite all the island and recover
the Holy Cross.
Despite the scantiness of this material there is evidence that
the writing of prophecies flourished in Wales as well as in
England. The Welsh bards in their adulatory poems to their
patrons refer to prophecies promising a great career for the
patron. There was little necessity for the Welsh to prophesy
after Bosworth Field, for their fondest hopes were realized in
the conquest of England by Henry Tudor, a Welshman, and
his accession to the throne of England.
How early the Irish contracted the habit of writing prophe
cies is not known. Prophecies exist which are attributed to
men who lived as early as the second century after Christ, such
as the two ascribed to Conn 'of the hundred battles' (died
157), Conne's Ecstacy, and The Champion's Ecstacy. 65 As
a rule, however, the prophecies are attributed to the Irish
62 W. L. Williams, A Welsh Insurrection, Y Cymmrodor, vol. 16, p. 5 f.
63 Supra, p. 33-
64 Reprinted for Roxburgh Society, vol. 99, London, 1880.
65 Eugene O'Curry, Lectures on Manuscript Sources of Ancient Irish
History, Dublin, 1878, p. 385.
Saints, of whom St. Moling and St. Columcille are accredited
with the greater number. It is almost needless to say that these
attributions are forgeries, for references to actual events show
that the predictions were written at much later times. Some
of them show evidence of being put together as late as the
eighteenth century. 66 But they refer most frequently to events
during the Danish and Anglo-Norman invasions. Those con
taining references only to the Danish Wars are usually prod
ucts of the tenth and eleventh centuries. They contain little
or no symbolism of the kind that is peculiar to the Galfridian
type, so far as one can judge from descriptions of them and
from short quotations. 67
Giraldus Cambrensis testifies that the Irish had written
prophecies in his day. He says, "The Irish may be said to
have had four prophets, Melingus, Braccanus, Patrick, and
Columcille whose books written in Irish are still extant." 68
These prophecies said, it seems, that Ireland would be wholly
subdued by the English scarcely before the Judgment Day.
Giraldus quotes in substance a prophecy of St. Columba to the
effect that a desperate battle should be fought at Down in which
so much Irish blood should be shed that men pursuing the Irish
would wade in blood up to their knees. According to Giraldus
another prophecy 69 of this Saint's concerning a broken and
needy man who should come to Down was fulfilled in John de
66 Supra, p. 418.
67 The transformations of Monann in the Irish tale, The Voyage of
Brann have, perhaps, echoes of this animal-symbolism.
Stanza, 53. He will be in the shape of every beast
Both on the azure sea and on land,
He will be a dragon before hosts at the onset,
He will be a wolf of every great forest.
54. He will be a stag with horn of silver
In the land where chariots are driven,
He will be a speckled salmon in a full pool,
He will be a seal, he will be a fair-white swan,
Voyage of Brann, Kuno Meyer and Alfred Nutt, London, 1895, i, 24-26.
68 Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica, ii, c. 34.
69 Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica, i, 30, 33.
Courcy, who kept by him a volume of Irish prophecies at
tributed to St. Columba. Giraldus also quotes episodes from
the prophecies of Melingus 70 concerning a great whirlwind
from the East that should lay low the Oaks of Heremon,
concerning the submission of the princes of Ulster, and con
cerning the coming of a man who should be the forerunner of
a greater man. The prophecies of Merlin relating to Irish
affairs 71 are best regarded as Anglo-Norman and not Irish in
70 Supra, ii, 16.
71 Supra, i, 3, 16, 30, 33, 45; ii, 16, 30, 31, 32.
72 Attention might be called to Nicholas O'Kearney's The Prophecies of
St. Columbkille, Maeltamlacht, Ultan, Seadhna, Coireall, Bearcan, etc.,
Dublin, 1856, for a modern version of many of the older prophecies. Those
in this volume are, with the exception of the ones attributed to St. Malachi,
direct, and have little or no relationship to the Galfridian type. The Proph
ecies of St. Malachi relate to the succession of the Popes. They are,
however, Galfridian, but the consideration of them belongs to the chapter
on the Galfridian type in other countries than England.
THE RELATION OF PROPHECIES TO POLITICAL EVENTS
The life of the Political Prophecy in England extended from
the early twelfth century to the late seventeenth century. This
endurance in vigor and strength for so long a time was caused
by a constant and continuous interest. The type made its ap
pearance under the auspices of men of authority, and throve
under the encouragement of the mighty. The Book of Merlin
was written at the request of a scholarly bishop by a man who
later became a bishop, and in its various forms was dedicated
to a bishop, to the son of a king, and to a prince who later
became king. The Seven Kings was written by a famous
scholar. The Giraldian Collection was made by one of the
most cultivated men of his time at the instance of the king
himself. Richard the First 1 sent to consult Joachim, an Italian
monk who was reputed a prophet. Bishop Grosseteste 2 seems
to have been interested in prophecies, for Adam de Marisco
sent him several. Froissart bears witness to the Englishman's
interest in prophecies in his time. An English gentleman once
entertained him by showing him a book of prophecies and
reading him selections from it. Froissart 3 also tells of the
interest taken by the royal family in a prophecy which was
interpreted to mean that John of Gaunt's descendants would
at some time occupy the throne. Richard the Second 3 showed
a great interest in prophecies. Henry of Monmouth, the later
Henry the Fifth, made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Bridling-
ton, who was regarded as the patron saint of the Lancastrians
because the prophecies attributed to him were interpreted
1 Benedict of Peterborough, R. S., vol. 2, p. 151 f. Abbot Joachim visited
Richard at Messina and expounded to him passages from the Apocalypse.
2 J. S. Brewer, Monumenta Franciscana, R. S. London, 1858, vol. 2, pp.
146-7. The work sent was Joachim's Exposition of the Apocalypse.
3 John Webb, Archaeologia, vol. 20, p. 260, 264 f .
favorably to Henry the Fourth. 4 The members of the York
family were devoted to prophecies. Vaticinations found their
way into the State Papers of Henry the Eighth. 5 Bishop Lati-
mer in 1536 sent Lord Cromwell a Latin prophecy because he
knew that the minister ' loved antiquities.' 6 Many prophecies
were addressed to Elizabeth and received by her. The
Prophecy of Grebner, given her by the author, found its way
to the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, as will be shown
Interest in the type was not confined, however, to the great,
but was shared by the common people as well. There is no
valid reason for doubting that bits of prophecies were circulated
orally among the people of England as they were in Wales.
It is true that there is little evidence to support such a state
ment beyond the almost certain inference that a movement of
such endurance and of such importance must have struck root
deeply. Popular interest is unmistakable after the introduc
tion of printing. Beginning with Wynkyn de Worde's A Lytel
Tretys of the Byrth and Prophecyes of Merlin in I5io, 7
prophecies of Merlin were issued at frequent intervals through
out the rest of the period. 8 Many of the later prophecies seem
to have been nothing more than pamphlets or chap-books.
Thomas Hey wood's The Life of Merlin (1641) is interesting in
this connection, although it is a worthless piece of hackwork. 9
As a result of such widespread interest the Englishman of the
*]. H. Wylie, History of England under Henry the Fourth, 4 vols., Lon
don, 1884-98, vol. 3, p. 334.
5 F. J. Furnivall, Ballads from Manuscript, Ballad Society, London, 1868-
72, vol. i, p. 316.
6 G. E. Corrie, Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer, Parker Society,
Cambridge, 1845, p. 375.
7 Reissued by him in 1524 and by John Hawkins in 1533. See Meade,
Outlines of the Merlin Legend, supra, p. Ixxiii f.
8 See The Catalog of Printed Books in the British Museum under the
9 The full title is The Life of Merlin, sirnamed Ambrosius, his Prophisies
and Predictions interpreted: and their Truth made good by our English
Annals. Heywood adapts very freely The Six- Kings as far as it extends,
and then forges his material. Each stanza is followed by several pages
late Middle Ages and early Renaissance seems to have been
proverbial for his love of secular prophecies and his belief in
them. " The inglishmen gifis ferme credit to diverse prophane
prophesies of Merlyne, and til uthir corrupit vaticinaris, to
quhais ymaginet verkis thai gyve mair faitht nor to the
prophesie of Ysaye, Egechiel, leremie, or to the evangel," con
temptuously wrote the author of The Complaint of Scotland
in I549. 10 Commines in France sixty years earlier had made
a similar taunt against the English when he insinuated, in his
account of the meeting between Louis the Eleventh of France
and Edward the Fourth of England, that the English were
provided with a prophecy for every occasion. The evidence
sustains the taunts of the foreigners, for prophecies were both
popular and powerful. "Their practical influence throughout
Wales and England was very extensive. Like the books of
the Italic Cumaean Sibyl they were applied to on grave occa
sions; they gave sanction to doubtful claims, or animated
revolutionary attempts ; and were always considered in a state
of progressive accomplishment. As these awful denunciations
respected political vicissitudes and were directed to rulers as
well as to the community they excited the interest of all orders
of society ; and, when they were cited, at once amazed the gap
ing multitude and ' with fear of change perplexed monarchs.' " n
Edward the Fourth consulted prophecies when in doubt, 12 and
partly on the strength of a doubtful threat contained in one
sent a brother to execution. 13 Noblemen, if they belonged to
the great political houses, 14 collected prophecies relating to the
fortunes of their families or kept books containing prophecies
concerning the history of the realm. 15 Ambassadors prefaced
10 The Complaynt of Scotland, E. E. T. S., extra series, 1-7-18, London,
1872, p. 82.
11 Webb, Archaeologia, xx, 252.
12 Martin du Bellay, Memoir es, ed. M. Petitot, Paris, 1827, p. 246.
"Shakspere, Richard HI, I, i.
"Earl of Northampton, A Defensative against the Poyson of Supposed
Prophecies, London, 1620, p. 125. Cf. Ms. Cotton. Vesp. E. VII (Ward,
i, 246). This Ms. seems to be a collection of prophecies made by some
member of the Percy family or an adherent.
15 Froissart, XII, 14, 32. Cf. Webb, Archaeologia, xx, 264 f.
their addresses or pressed their claims with quotations from
suitable prophecies. 16 Books of prophecies were chained to
desks in many libraries, and regarded with respect and venera
The relation of the prophecies to political events is constant
and close. The preceding chapter has shown that it was a
convention of the genre to make a review of actual history
in prophetic guise before proceeding with the prophecy proper,
though the shorter pieces on account of their narrow com
pass commonly omit the review of the past. Because of this
convention the prophecies furnish at the same time a very good
vaticinal chronicle of English history from the Conquest to the
Commonwealth, and an excellent record of the sentiments of
the people at different times. The old Vision of Edward the
Confessor was supposed to have foretold the coming of the
Normans. The Book of Merlin brings the sequence of events
down into the reign of Henry the First. Ganieda's Prophecy
in the Vita Merlini covers the civil war between Stephen and
Matilda. The Seven Kings leaves Henry the Second on the
throne. This king's troubles with his sons are told in the
Giraldian Collection. The reign of Richard the First is repre
sented by the Here Prophecy and by the verses beginning
Cedrus alta Libani Neustria's loss of the islands, foretold
in The Book of Merlin, was realized during the reign of King
John. The Six Kings, extending really to seven kings in its
fullest and latest version, 19 furnishes material to some time
after the accession of Henry the Fifth. Numerous prophecies
relate to the Wars of the Roses, among which might be men
tioned Asinus Coronatus, Vulpes et Luna. 20 The Prophisies
of Rymour, Beid, and Marlyng carry the chronicle to some
time past the Battle of Flodden in 1515. The break with the
old religion is recorded in the piece beginning, " When Rome is
removed into England." The Hempe Prophecy carries the
enumeration of monarchs through Elizabeth. The accession of
18 Mezeray, Histoire de France, I, 384. (Webb, supra, p. 253.)
17 Northampton, Defensative, p. 118.
18 Ward, loc. cit., i, 314.
19 Ward, loc. cit., i, 322, no. 24.
20 Ward, loc. cit., i, 319.
James fulfilled in a way many Scottish prophecies. Lilly's
interpretation of the second part of The Giraldian Collection
closes the chronicle with the execution of Charles the First and
the establishment of the Commonwealth.
Many other prophecies might be added to this list. It is to
be noticed that they become more numerous at times of crisis
or when patriotic emotion was deeply moved. The French
wars of Edward the Third gave rise to numerous vaticinations.
The events of these wars were reflected in Becket, The Six
Kings, and Bridlington. The same ground is covered by the
Latin prophecy called The Lion, the Lily and the Son of Man. 21
The Prophecy of Joachim, 22 beginning Egredietur unicornis de
plaga occidentali, is on the same period but from the viewpoint
of the continent. The Scottish Wars are reflected in The Six
Kings, the Erceldoune cycle, the Northumbrian ballad "Als I
yod on Monday," and in many Latin prophecies some of which
were described in the preceding chapter. The events leading
to the deposition of Richard the Second and following the ac
cession of Henry the Fourth called forth many prophecies.
Among these maybe mentioned the Ampulla Prophecy ascribed
to Becket, Filius Aquilae, revivals of Sextus Hibernicus, ver
sions of Asinus Coronatus 23 the Ve Regalibus 2 * the later ver
sions of The Six Kings, The Prophecy of the Fishes, and, if
Brandl's theory be true, Erceldoune and The Cock in the North.
Prophecies seem to have been numerous at the time of the
Armada. Many were written while the great Civil War was
in progress or after the execution of the king.
The chroniclers, historians, and other people who took any
interest in the genre were quick to see this close relation to
actual history, as is shown by the fact that fresh interpretations
of old prophecies were constantly made during the period.
The Book of Merlin was scarcely produced before The
Prophecies of Merlin were edited with annotations and interpre-
^Todd, Last Age, Ixxxiv.
23 Bartholomew Cotton, Historia Anglicana, ed. H. R. Luard, R. S., Lon
don, 1859, pp. 239-240.
23 Webb, Archaeologia, xx, 257, prints several of these prophecies.
21 Webb, supra, p. 256.
tations. 25 John of Cornwall's Seven Kings was provided with
a commentary. Before the end of the twelfth century a monu
mental interpretation of The Book of Merlin had been written
by Alanus de Insulis, who was one of the most learned men of
the century, if he was one with Alain de. Lille, the author of De
Planctu Naturae." 16 Internal evidence shows that this interpre
tation was probably written between 1174 and 1179. The
commentary is divided into seven books. The first discusses
the question whether Merlin was a Christian and answers it in
the affirmative. The second contains a consideration of the
genuineness of Merlin's inspiration. The author concludes that
God made use of Merlin to predict the future as in the case of
Job, Balaam, Cassandra, and the Sibyls. In the third book
Alanus takes up the question of Merlin's paternity and dis
misses the incubus-story, saying that the mother had invented
it to hide her own shame. The remaining four books contain
the interpretation of the prophecies. Actual history affords
the author material down into the reign of Henry the Second.
After this point he continues with the prophecies, and attempts
to show what sort of things they foretell and to prove these
events possible, though he forecasts nothing in particular. In
terpretations of certain episodes are found in this book for
the first time 27 so far as could be determined in this study.
The book seems to have been fairly well known and the
author to have enjoyed a reputation for great wisdom. Rupe-
scissa 28 is said to have used this book as a basis for a com
mentary which Telesphorus professed to have used.
The chroniclers also formed the habits of quoting prophe
cies as fortelling events or happenings which they were narrat
ing. Ordericus Vitalis set the example. Several examples
from Giraldus Cambrensis were quoted in the preceding
chapter. Frequently a chronicler seems to have taken the
25 Lincoln Cathedral Ms. A. 46, 12 c. Described by H. Schenkel in
Biblioteca patrum latinorum Britannica, Kais. Akad. D. Wissensch. Sitzb.
philos. hist. Klasse, vol. 131, Wien, 1894, P- 61.
26 Histoire Litteraire de France, vol. 16, p. 417 f.
27 For instance, the episode relating to the 'newcomers' (Evans, 175;
Giles, 122) interpreted as applying to Stephen.
28 Kampers, Kaiserp., p. 237.
prophecy and the interpretation from some predecessor's ac
count of the same thing. Matthew Paris quotes several frag
ments in this way. 29 The episode, " The half shall be round," 30
is quoted by Higden, Trivet, Rishanger, and Walsingham, not
to mention others, and occurs in the Brut y Twysogion, under
date of 1279. The episode relating to the slaughter of the
Bulls by the Lion's Cubs was referred by Roger of Hoveden
and Benedict of Peterborough to the revolt of young Henry
against Henry the Second. These are only typical instances;
other prophecies as well were quoted when occasion served. A
Latin prophecy on Sextus Hibernicus, beginning Ter tria lustra
tenent cum semi temp or a sexti is quoted in the Eulogium His-
toriarum with linear interpretations. 31 Adam of Usk quoted
Bridlington, The Girddian Collection, and The Book of Merlin.
The list might be carried to a greater length.
The life of a prophecy, it is evident, was not limited to a few
years following its production. Many episodes in The Book
of Merlin survived for centuries. The second part of The
Giraldian Collection was translated into English and used as a
genuine prophecy three hundred and fifty years after its first
appearance. A popular prophecy was not allowed to die.
Fulfillment of various episodes in it was expected and
announced on the slightest occasion. A prophecy that had
proved untrue was revised so as to conform to historical fact.
The Six Kings was for two hundred years interpolated and
revised, Sextus Hibernicus, or Hiberniae, was confidently
expected for even a longer time. How a germ of a prophecy
could grow has been made evident in the case of Erceldoune.
History made the prophecies by furnishing them the material
to deal with. The early examples of the type established the
form and its conventions. The truly vaticinal portions were
first intended to give only an imaginary portrayal of what might
happen in the future. The events predicted were indicative of
the writer's wishes and desires, or reflected the spirit and senti
ments of the times. The earlier prophecies are therefore to be
29 Matthew Paris, Chronicle, R. S., vol. 2, p. 4, 388, 463 ; Chron. Maj.,
vol. i, p. 260.
30 Evans, 175; Giles, 121.
31 Eulogium Historiarum, R. S., vol. i, p. 417 f.
considered exercises in a clearly defined literary genre, written
to satisfy a desire to produce something like that which some
one else had done and to give play to the writer's speculative
ingenuity. Ganieda's Prophecy, which is pure history, can be
nothing but a literary exercise. The Book of Merlin, inas
much as it is a translation, belongs in the same category. It is
true that Geoffrey included in it the Cadwalader-Conan episode
which promised the expulsion of the foreigners and the restora
tion of Welsh hegemony, but no one accuses him of any sinister
motives against the Norman dynasty. The Prophecy of the
Fishes, which is nothing but a translation and adaptation of two
chapters of Bridlington, must also be considered a literary
The events predicted in these literary prophecies concern
either the personal career of the king and the nation only
incidentally as it is represented by the king, or the national
interests of the people as a whole. Becket deals chiefly with
the King of England, for whom it foretells a brilliant and
glorious career of universal victory which ends in a success
ful Crusade. The same can be said of The Lion, the Lily, and
the Son of Man. In Anglia transmittet Leopardum* 2 the King
is still of chief importance, but the interests of the nation as
represented in the person of the king are given more attention.
On the other hand the Latin Verses against Edward the Third,
a Scottish prophecy, is concerned with the national sentiments
of the Scots. They are promised not only freedom but also
complete triumph and perpetual supremacy over their foes.
The king does not enter into it. Bridlington because of its
elaborateness and complexity of form must be regarded as a
literary prophecy. But it is rather encyclopedic in its scope.
In addition to narrating actual events and to picturing the
possible future the writer recorded the faults of the king and
the miseries of the people. But he did this rather to admonish
the king, for he predicted the king's ultimate repentance and
The present writer cannot subscribe to the belief that every
political prophecy was written with some particular and well-
32 Printed in note 1 1 to chapter three.
defined purpose in view. Brandl thinks that Becket was written
to restore confidence in the aging Edward the Third. Such
may be true. But it is highly improbable, one must confess,
that a king whose armies abroad had just won a conspicuous
victory at Poitiers and whose army at home had recently re
taken Berwick should need the assistance of a prophecy to
regain the confidence of his subjects. The Anglo-Norman
version of The Six Kings dates as early as the late thirteenth
century. Actual history is portrayed as far as the reign of
Edward the Second. Thereafter the account of events is pure
prophecy. But the events predicted in each reign relate to the
personal career of the king, and are not of a nature to influ
ence opinion in a crisis unless they might be quoted in favor of
some monarch during some insurrection.
It is difficult, in the case of any single prophecy, to say that
it was never used to influence opinion in behalf of any political
faction. The absence of any record of such use is no proof.
All that can be done is to take cognizance of those cases in
which the records furnish evident proof, and to consider the
others according to the purpose for which they were written,
as far as one can judge from an examination of their contents.
Many prophecies which were produced merely as literary
exercises were afterwards quoted as bearing upon a given
situation and as promising a definite result. The Cadwalader-
Conan episode was used innocently enough by Geoffrey, but
detached from The Book of Merlin, it was perhaps circulated
among the Welsh to further the ambitious designs of princes
who wished to be recognized as the Cadwalader of the proph
ecy. The prediction concerning Edward the Third that he, as a
Boar, should whet his tusks against the gates of Paris seems
to have been known in France and to have been used by the
French faction allied to him. 33 Episodes from The Book of
Merlin relating to a victorious maiden who should dry up the
poisonous wells of Winchester 34 and to a damsel who should
come out of the Forest of Canute 35 were applied by the French
33 Froissart, Oeuvres, ed. Baron Kervyn de Lettenhove, 25 vol. Brussells,
1870-77, vol. 17, p. 216.
34 Evans, 179; Giles, 124.
33 Evans, 179; Giles, 124.
to Jeanne d'Arc. 36 The episode in The Book of Merlin seeming
to foretell the coalition of Scotland and Wales and their victory
over England 37 lingered into the sixteenth century. It is used
in most of the Scottish Latin prophecies in conjunction with the
episode promising the restoration of the ancient name to the
island. A form of it, " King James with the Red Hand and the
Ravens shall conquer all England," was used in the rebellion of
Rhys ap Griffith in I53I. 38 The Filius-Aquilae episode from
the Giraldian Collection,, written originally with reference to
Henry the Second, was revived in the interest of Henry the
Fourth, who in other prophecies was frequently called the
Eagle. Glendower in his letters to foreign princes seeking
their assistance referred to prophecies which he seemed to ful
fill, but he did not name or quote them. 39 Numerous other
instances might be mentioned, particularly in the later period
in the case of such episodes as The French-Wife's-Son and
The Cock in the North, but these are sufficient to make the
The prophecies were written at first purely as literary exer
cises. After they had been in existence some time they were
quoted as bearing upon certain political issues. But in the
course of time when factions grew up in the government of
England and political rivalry became more intense, prophecies
were written and circulated deliberately as active political pro
paganda. They were either completely new creations, or
revivals of old material revised to fit the exigencies of the occa
sion and the interests of the faction they were designed to
further. As such they were used by certain factions in the
government, or by the government itself, in support of certain
One of the earliest propagandist prophecies is the poem
which is called, for want of a better name, Adam Davy's Five
36 Villemarque, Myrdhin, p. 323 f.
37 Evans, 175; Giles, 122.
38 W. L. Williams, A Welsh Insurrection, Y Cymmrodor, vol. 16, p. 33.
39 A. G. Bradley, Owen Glendower and the Last Struggle for Welsh Inde
pendence, London, 1901, p. 161.
Dreams about Edward the Second.* It is properly a series of
visions. Although it contains no animal-symbolism it is inter
esting because it is evidently propagandist.
The dreams cover a period extending over a year. In the
first dream Davy saw King Edward crowned with gold stand
ing before the high altar of Canterbury and strongly assailed
by two armed knights who beat the king severely. The king
endured the blows without returning them, but suffered no
wound. When the two knights had gone, four radiant bands
of light, red and white, sprang from his temples far and wide
into the country. This dream occurred on Wednesday before
the Feast of St. John (August 29).
On Tuesday night before All Saints' Day (November i)
Adam dreamed that the king was chosen Emperor of Christen
dom (Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire). A second dream
apparently on the same night (the author counts the next dream
the third of the series) showed the king clad in a gray cloak,
without shoes and hose and with bloody legs, riding as a pilgrim
towards Rome where he soon arrived. This dream seems
to have caused Davy some anxiety, for at the sight of the
king's legs, which were red as blood, his heart wept for great
The next dream occurred some six weeks later on a Wednes
day night before St. Lucy's Day. Davy thought that he was in
Rome, and that he saw the Pope and King Edward, clad in
gray, both newly ' dubbed.' The Pope wore his mitre, the king
the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. This dream closes with
the prayer that the king might overcome his enemies and 'all
wicked Saracens in every place.'
The fourth dream occurred on ' worthingnight.' 41 Davy
dreamed that he came into a chapel of the Virgin, and that he
saw Christ unloose His hands from the cross and declare that
He was going on a pilgrimage with the king who should, con-
40 Edited by F. J. Furnivall, E. E. T. S., 69, London, 1878: reprinted by
O. F. Emerson, A Middle English Reader, New York, 1905, pp. 227-232.
Emerson omits do, the last word in line 18, p. 231, and all of what should
be line 3, p. 232.
41 This date has not yet been identified.
quer the heathen. The Virgin declared that the Saviour's will
was hers, and prayed God to attend the king night and day.
On Wednesday in l clean Lent' a voice bade Adam, who
describes himself at this place as Marshal of Stratford-at-Bow,
write down these visions and show them to the King. He
demurred because of the darkness, but light from Heaven
showed him the way, and he set forth eastward.
On Thursday next the birthday of the Virgin (Septembers),
it seemed to Adam that an angel took the king by the hand.
The king stood before the altar clothed in red, and red in coun
tenance. Two other points the author says are not shown in
the poem, but that he will disclose them only to the king. The
angel came to him and threatened him with punishment unless
he told this dream.
Very little is known of this poem. It has no title in the
manuscript. The king Edward has been identified as Edward
the Second because in the poem he is addressed as King of
England and Prince of Wales. The first and third Edwards
never bore the second title. The ill-fated son of Henry the
Sixth and Margaret of Anjou never became king. Edward
the Fourth was never called Prince of Wales. The prophecy
could not have been written about Edward the Fifth. The
poem is older than the sixteenth century. Edward the Second
is the only king that answers all requirements.
No exact date has ever been set for the poem, but Emerson 4 - 2
seems to have expressed the general opinion when he said that
it was probably written soon after Edward's accession to the
throne in 1307. The reason for such dating seems to be
that after the first years of the reign no one in his right
senses would have prophesied such a brilliant future for
Edward the Second. But this is really no reason at all. There
is danger at this late day, especially in the case of prophecies,
of seeing things too much in perspective. Edward's contem
poraries did not all consider him weak and inefficient. He had
friends and supporters who came to his assistance in the
time of trouble. Many of them had doubtless never heard the
stories told of him, and many who had heard did not believe.
42 Emerson, supra, p. 314.
The first difficulties with Thomas of Lancaster were rather the
result of family quarrels. Lancaster was the king's cousin, and
the queen's uncle by the half-blood, and except the king was the
only Prince of the Blood grown to man's estate. An enthusi
astic partisan of the king who was ignorant of the stories or
disregarded them could under the circumstances have proph
esied almost anything.
The predictions which seem so highly improbable are that
Edward should become Holy Roman Emperor, and that he
should make a successful crusade. Neither of these would
have appealed to the patriotic Englishman of that time as so
very unlikely. Richard of Cornwall, brother of Henry the
Third, had been elected Emperor after the death of Henry
the Fifth by one faction of the Electorate, and had actually
exercised sovereign power in a part of Germany. Edmund of
Lancaster, the uncle of Edward the Second, had been elected
King of Sicily, but had never made any effort to make good his
election. As for the second prediction, the age of crusades had
not entirely passed. Edward the First had been on a crusade
when his father's death left the throne vacant for him. Eng
lish kings as late as Henry the Fourth dreamed of recovering
the Holy Sepulchre.
The prediction regarding the election as Emperor becomes
less unreasonable when one recalls the state of affairs in Ger
many. At the death of Albert the First in 1313, Lewis of
Bavaria was elected by one faction, Frederick of Austria by
another. Both exercised the imperial authority in their respec
tive domains until 1322 when Frederick was defeated and
captured by Lewis. Even then Pope John XXII refused to
acknowledge Lewis, and declared the imperial office vacant.
It was, therefore, quite possible to prophesy the election of an
Emperor who should be acceptable to the Pope. Such is just
the prophecy that is made in the Dreams where the king is
described as being on friendly terms with the Pope. 43
43 A wilder prophecy is made of Edward the Second in the Exposition
of the Verses of Gild as concerning the prophecy of the Eagle and the
Hermit, ms. Arundel 57, 5 a. This pretends to be an interpretation of sev
eral prophecies, but is really a prophecy itself. The date 1320 is given in
The date of the poem cannot be determined with any great
certainty. Adam's prayer that the king should be victorious
over his enemies would certainly indicate that the poem was
written after the opposition to the king had become rather
strong. Gaveston was beheaded in 1312. Lancaster became all
powerful in 1314. The election of Edward as Emperor is
more reasonable if prophesied to occur after the death of the
Emperor Albert in 1313. Pope Clement the Fifth, who died
the following year, recognized neither Lewis nor Frederick.
The seventy-sixth line of the poem, " BoJ? hij hadden a newe
dubbyng," seems to imply that the pope who should consecrate
the King in his new dignity had himself been crowned only
recently. Clement the Fifth died in 1314, but no successor was
elected until 1316 when John XXII was chosen. If this line
has anything to do with papal politics, it was probably written
during the interregnum. The consecration according to the
Dreams took place in Rome. But the new Pope when elected
resided in Avignon, the second of the Babylonian Captivity
which had been begun by his predecessor in 1305. The author
would seem to have written with the expectation that the new
Pope when chosen would reside in Rome.
Nothing has so far been known of the author except what
can be got from the poem itself. He gives his full name, Adam
Davy, once and speaks of himself twice as Adam the Marshal
of Stratford-at-Bow. In both instances he speaks as if he
the piece itself. References to Robert Bruce in the context show that
it must have been written before Bruce's death in 1329. The Queen must
be Isabella of France, for she is called Gallica.
According to this prophecy, Edward the Second should make his eldest
son King of Scotland. He was to quarrel with the king of France, make
war on him, conquer him, and make one country of the two kingdoms.
Shortly after the Queen was to die. Edward was then to marry a German
princess who should become the mother of a mighty soldier whom Merlin
had called ' the Lynx penetrating all things/ Edward was later to make an
invasion of Spain and after conquering it, to pass over into Africa. After
conquering all Africa, the Holy Land, Persia, and Babylon, he was to
be met at Tholmaida by envoys from the Pope asking him to become Holy
Roman Emperor. He was not only to receive this title, but was also to
become Emperor of Constantinople as well and master of the world. The
rest of the prophecy concerns his sons after his death.
were a well-known person. He was at one time supposed to
be the author of other poems that occur in the same manuscript,
but this view has now been discarded. An Adam the Marshal,
seemingly a man of some importance, is mentioned in the
Patent Rolls at the close of Edward the First's reign and during
that of Edward the Second. On March 6, 1306, license was
granted for the alienation in mortmain by Adam le Mareschall
of Cirencester to the master and brethren of the Hospital of St.
John the Baptist, Cirencester, of a messuage and a moiety of a
virgate of land in Cirencester, Northcote, and Preston. On
July 26, 1313, pardon for a fine of two hundred pounds was
granted the abbot and convent of Cirencester for acquiring in
mortmain in the preceding reign small parcels of lands, tene
ments, mills, shops, and messuages with their appurtenances in
Cirencester from a number of men among whom Adam le
Mareschall is mentioned. On October 24, 1315, a similar
pardon for a similar offense was granted the abbot and con
vent of Cirencester. Adam le Mareschall is again one of the
men from whom land and property were acquired. A com
mission of oyer and terminer dated May 16, 1316, names Adam
le Mareschall as one of a company who with the Abbot of Cir
encester hunted rabbits on lands at Tillbury, Gloucestershire,
belonging to Peter de Brewosa.
So far there is nothing to connect Adam the Marshal with
the court or with Stratford. He seems to have had property in
Circencester and the neighborhood, and to have been on
friendly terms with Adam de Brokenborough, Abbot of Ciren
cester. A patent of September 28, 1314, granting safe conduct
until Christmas for Walter de Gawey and Adam le Mareschall
whom Henry de Beaumont was sending on business to the
Isle of Man, brings him into greater prominence. Henry de
Beaumont was a kinsman both of the King and of the Queen.
Edward had made him King of Man in 1312. Adam le Mare
schall must have been a trustworthy man of some importance to
have been sent on such a mission. Another patent dated April
21, 1316, shows that he and Sir Robert de Bardleby became
surety that certain traders sent out by Stephen Aleyne, a
prominent London merchant, would not take the goods to the
enemy. Bardleby was a judge, one of the keepers of the
great seal, and otherwise a man of importance. The last refer
ence to Adam le Mareschall is in one of three complaints
entered by Alice Burnell of Worcestershire, January 12, 1324,
in which he is named as one of a large party that trespassed on
two manors of hers. Although the complaint does not make
the explicit statement, this seems to have been another hunting
These facts do not show that Adam le Mareschall was the
Adam Davy of the Dreams. They do not connect him in any
way with Stratford-at-Bow. In fact the only place with
which he is shown to have been connected is Cirencester. The
grants of land in Cirencester were all made in the reign of
Edward the First as the records show. It is not impossible
that he had entered the court shortly before Edward the First's
death or shortly after the accession of Edward the Second. He
was a man of importance in 1314. He was considered reliable
surety in 1316. He may have been a married man and have
lived in Stratford, since women were not allowed to live at
court unless they held some official position. 4 * Stratford was
at that time a village across the river Lea, five miles from St.
Paul's. What official position he held at court cannot be de
termined. If the name Marshal was official, it would indicate
that he held office in the Marshalsea, perhaps as knight mar
shal of the hall. 45 Whoever he was and wherever he lived,
he was a devoted adherent of his king.
Adam Davy's Dreams is not a Galfridian prophecy, but at
tention has been given it because it is so obviously propagandist,
and because so little has hitherto been known of its author.
Among the Galfridian prophecies, with which this study is
mainly concerned, the Erceldoune cycle were in all probability
propagandist. Murray pointed out that the passage relating to
the Battle of Bannockburn predicted an English victory in
earlier versions. He thought it not unlikely that this episode
in its original form had been written and circulated among the
44 King Edward II's Household and Wardrobe Ordinances A. D. 1323 ed.
F. J. Furnivall, London, 1876 for Chaucer Soc., p. 56.
45 Supra, 21.
English troops on the eve of battle in order to refresh their
courage and confidence. The poem as it stands is anti-Scottish
in sentiment, and may perhaps have been written to browbeat
the Scots. If so, episodes irrelevant to the main theme have
got into the third fytte.
The Scottish prophecies in Latin, previously discussed, must
be considered political propaganda, for they are so strongly
patriotic in sentiment and use traditional material in such a
manner that one must believe they were written not only to
encourage the Scots, but also to intimidate the English. The
French-Wife's-Son theme seems to have originated in an at
tempt to influence opinion in favor of Albany. It was used
during the later years of Elizabeth, perhaps, to strengthen the
popular conviction that James the Sixth of Scotland was the
rightful heir to the throne of England.
The fifteenth century version of The Six Kings 4 is interest
ing because of its connection with actual politics. Even the
Anglo-French version had prophesied the league of the Lion,
the Wolf and the Dragon. But the special application was
made by the Percies, Glendower, and Mortimer, who hoped that
this part of the prophecy had been accomplished in the
Tripartite Convention, 47 and that the rest of it would be
realized in a great victory over Henry the Fourth. Such use
of this material was all the more effective because the prophecy
was old and venerable, and because it fitted the situation so
The Ampulla Prophecy** ascribed to Becket, has some
foundation in real history. Richard the Second while rum
maging in the Tower among the relics of his father found a
brazen ampulla with a Latin prophecy attached to it. Accord
ing to the story, Becket during his exile from England spent
some time in Sens. One night the Virgin Mary appeared to
him in a vision carrying this ampulla filled with oil. She told
him that the reigning dynasty of England would become ex
tinct, and that the founder of the new dynasty, who would
46 This version was paraphrased in the third chapter of this study.
4T Wylie, Henry the Fourth, vol. 2, p. 379.
48 Archaeologia, xxjf , p. 264, 5, 6.
wear an eagle on his breast, would be anointed at his corona
tion with oil from this ampulla. Richard seems to have been
greatly affected by the prophecy, for he insisted on a second
coronation with oil from the ampulla. But the Archbishop
refused, taking the stand that one coronation was enough for
any king. Richard was not satisfied, and would not let the
relic out of his keeping. He took it with him to Ireland.
However, on his return at Chester he gave it into the care of
the Archbishop, who used the oil from it to consecrate Henry
Events attending the course of the Puritan Revolution and
the overthrow of the monarchy called forth a number of
prophecies from both factions. The Cavaliers seem to have
revived a prophecy attributed to Grebner concerning Charles
the son of Charles, and to have used it for all that could be
got from it. Another prophecy of the Northern Lion was
applied by the Royalists to the exiled Charles the Second. A
third prediction related to a Northern King that should con
quer Europe and win a great battle in the Valley of Jehosaphat.
Two of these prophetic books, one falsely attributed to Greb
ner and published in 1648, the other called The Future History
of Europe and published in 1650, seem to have been rather
effective weapons. William Lilly, who had been court as
trologer but had become a Parliamentarian, felt called upon to
refute them. He accordingly published in July, 1651, Mon
archy or No Monarchy in England, which was intended to
settle the vaticinal dispute.
Monarchy or no Monarchy is very interesting to the student
of political prophecies. It was written in all seriousness, and
intended by its writer as the final word on a vital and most
important topic. In it Lilly analyzes the prophecies which had
been interpreted favorably to the Royalists, and shows to his
own satisfaction that the interpretations were wrong. He then
quotes other prophecies, interprets them, and convinces him
self at least that the Fates had determined to allow England no
more kings. He follows this vaticinal portion of the book with
a treatise on the life of Charles the First, and closes the
volume with some pictures in which, according to his own state-
ment, he endeavored to portray the history of England for
several centuries. The main points he considered it necessary
to decide, he says in his preface, were whether any more kings
should reign in England, and whether the Commonwealth
should be permanent.
Lilly directs his attention first to the P seudo-Grebner Proph
ecy of 1648. The real Paul Grebner had, during a visit to
England in 1582, given Queen Elizabeth ' a faire manuscript in
Latin, describing therein the future history of Europe, here and
there limming in water colors some principal passages.' The
Queen gave it to Dr. Nevill, clerk of the closet, who in turn
gave it to the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. In this
book Grebner had written a prophecy concerning a Northern
King Charles, the son of Charles, who should conquer Spain
and greatly weaken the power of the Pope. This Charles was
to have a popish wife. The P seudo-Grebner changed this
prophecy to say that a Northern King Charles should reign
whose wife should be a popish princess named Marie, but that
he should be very unfortunate. His people should choose
another commander, an Earl, to rule over them for the space
of three years or thereabout. After the Earl should come
another commander, a Knight, not of the same family, who
should trample all things under his feet. After him the people
should choose no one at all. But Charles the Son of Charles
with the aid of Denmark, Scotland, Sweden, Holland, and
France should overthrow his adversaries, regain the kingdom,
and be greater than Charles the Great. Lilly shows that only
part of this prophecy written after the event, the choice of the
Earl of Essex as Lord General, had been fulfilled, and that the
passage relating to the choice of the Knight was untrue.
The Future History of Europe was published in 1650 seem
ingly to correct the mistakes made in 1648. The prophecies in
it were attributed some to Grebner, some to Baudensis, and one
to Merlin Caledonicus. It pretended to foretell the history of
Europe from 1650 to 1710. In the latter year the beginning of
the Fifth Monarchy was predicted to occur. The Pseudo-
Grebner was used to show that the young prince, later Charles
the Second, should be a universal conqueror, and that he should
establish this Fifth Monarchy. Baudensis was quoted as
prophesying much the same thing. Lilly refutes this vaticinal
argument by showing that the younger Charles, if he fulfilled
the prophecy, would have to live to be one hundred and one
years old, a thing not likely to occur. He even goes so far as
to say that no King of Scotland ever lived sixty years. Another
prophecy of Baudensis was quoted in this work, but Lilly shows
that it was grossly misinterpreted, and that it was really un
favorable to the Scottish king.
A prophecy attributed to the Scottish Merlin was also quoted.
Lilly translates it in part thus :
" Those times being past, the tayle of the Virgin shall enter the Lyon,
and Scorpio shall ascend the backe of Sagitary; the Northern kingdoms
shall be wasted by Reapers, the Southern Principalities shall end in dust,
and the powers of the Island Monarchies without either Bridle or Souldier
shall be harnessed. Cruell wars shall be scattered by winds, and quell'd by
a revengeful Hayle ; whose beginning were by a staffe, their growth and
continuance by Bastards. The Sunne itself shall play on a Timbrel clad
with a vermillion coat, and the Moone with dun buskins, shall amble to the
faire. Laughest thou, oh King? ... All these things shall scarce be accom
plished, when a Prince of royall stocke shall come forth crowned from the
Northerns parts, as to his owne people unexpected, but desired by foreign
ers ; who because he shall beare a rampant Lyon, shall therefore be called a
A glorious career ending in a great victory in the Valley of
Jehosaphat and the establishment of the Kingdom of Fugitives
is predicted for him. Lilly insists that this is a prophecy of the
last days, and that it therefore does not apply to Charles.
After riddling the two books that had aroused his anger,
Lilly then proceeds to quote from the genuine Grebner and to
show that it cannot relate to English affairs. The Charles was
meant by Grebner to apply to the king of Sweden. He also
quotes other prophecies by Grebner, one by Capestranus, and an
astrological prediction on the conjunction of Saturn and
Jupiter in July, 1623. He then invades the enemy's country
and quotes what he considers genuine Scottish prophecies,
and interprets them favorably to the Commonwealth. These
were taken largely from The Whole Prophecy of Scotland.
After the Scottish prophecies Lilly passes to English proph-
ecies. He quotes some short predictions, among them the
Hempe prophecy. The most significant thing in the whole
book, however, is The Prophecy of the White King, attributed
to Merlin Ambrose and introduced as part of the argument.
According to Lilly's translation it reads :
" When the Lyon of Ryghtfulness is dead, then shall rise a White King
in Brittaine, first flying, and after riding, after ligging downe, and in this
ligging down, hee shall be lymed, after that hee shall be led. And there
shall be shewed whether there be another King. Then shall be gadered to-
gather much folk, and He shall take helpe for him. And there shall
bee Merchandise of Men, as of a Horse or an Ox. There shall bee sought
helpe, and there shall none arise, but bed for head. And then shall one
gone there the Sun ariseth, another there the Sun gone downe. After
this, it shall be said by Britain (King is King) King is no King: after this
hee shall raise his head, and he shall betaken him to be a King. Bee many
things to done, but wise men reading, . . . , and then shall a rang of
Gleeds, and ever each hath bereaving, hee shall have it for his owne. And
this shall last seven years, loe Ravening and shedding of blood. And
Ovens shall be made like Kirkes or churches. After, then shall come
through the South with the Sun, on Horse of Tree, the chicken of the
Eagle sayling into Brittaine, and arriving anone to the house of the Eagle,
hee shall shew fellowship to them beasts. After a year and a half shall
be war in Britain. Then shall a sooth be nought worth, and every man
shall keepe his thing, and gotten other mens goods. After the White
King feeble shall goe towards the West, beclipped about with his folke
to the olde place been running water. Then his enemies shall meet him,
and March in her place shall be ordained about him, an Hoast in the
manner of a shield, shall be formed, then shall they tighten on Ovenfront.
After the White King shall fall into a Kirkyard, over a Hall."
This seems to have been quoted from a version belonging to
Lady Poston. Immediately after it Lilly quotes one not so full.
Its agreement with the second part of the Giraldian Collection
is very close. Lilly is scholar enough to give variant readings
of some episodes from different versions. He had used at least
three. The first version reads suspiciously as if it had been
edited for the occasion. But Lilly himself may have been inno
cent. It is important to notice that the second oldest prophecy
was translated and used in 1651 as serious and incontrovertible
evidence in a political argument.
It has been said that history made the prophecies by furnish
ing them with material. In some cases prophecies helped make
history. It is always difficult to determine how much the com
plications of a situation or the result of a crisis was due to
them. One wisely hesitates without convincing proof to say
that any particular event or series of events was caused directly
by some prophecy. But one can affirm with safety that proph
ecies were potent factors in English political affairs, and that
their influence seemed constant until the middle of the seven
teenth century. They were used seriously during the Common
wealth period. In Wales their influence was very strong. The
Welsh cherished their prophecies, and brought them out on the
least occasion to hail some expected redeemer of their race.
They not only quoted them, but they believed them. An ambi
tious chief by circulating a suitable and appropriate prophecy
could easily gain adherents to his cause. Englishmen on more
than one occasion had prophecies to thank for disorders in
Wales. 49 In England predictions, if not the moving cause of
uprisings, seditions, and rebellions, certainly helped to compli
cate the situation by arousing in the rebels false hopes, even
certainty of victory. 50 They were certainly influential in the
troublous times leading to the deposition of Richard the Second
and in the rebellions during the early years of Henry the
Fourth's reign. Percy, Glendower, and Mortimer, doubtless
did not believe that Fate and Merlin had decreed the Tripartite
Convention among them, but they were undoubtedly quite will
ing to believe that the prophecy of the Lion, the Dragon, and
the Wolf had thereby been fulfilled, and were glad to make the
best of what argument and justification the prophecy afforded
Particular instances of the direct influence of prophecies are
difficult to find. Such direct influence must have been exerted
from time to time, as can be judged by the laws which the
various monarchs of England passed prohibiting the circula-
49 Vita Edwardi Secundi auctore Malmesberiensi in Chronicles of the
Reigns of Edward 1 and Edward II, R. S., vol. 2, p. 218; The Political
History of England, Hunt and Poole, vol. 3, by T. F. Tout, London, 1905,
50 J. A. Froude, History of England, 12 vols., Longmans, Green, and Co.,
London, 1898, vol. 4, p. 451 for a prophecy used in Kett's Rebellion and its
tion of prophecies. The first laws that have come to notice in
the course of this study were passed in the reign of Henry the
Fourth. A law was passed in 1402 against the wandering
Welsh minstrels who 'by their ' divinations and lies were the
cause of the insurrection and rebellion in Wales.' 51 A law of
1406 against the Lollards recites among the complaints against
the sect that they had published false prophecies which pre
dicted the overthrow of the King, the Princes, and the Lords
Temporal and Spiritual. 5 - This law among other things pro
hibited the use of such false prophecies under penalty of im
prisonment without bail and of severe punishment upon
The use and effectiveness of political prophecies as political
propaganda had become so great in the course of the fifteenth
and early sixteenth centuries that Henry the Eighth felt it
necessary to prohibit them. Accordingly he made it a felony
without benefit of clergy 'to declare any false prophecy upon
occasion of arms, fields, letters, names, cognizances, or
badges.' 53 This law was repealed at the accession of Edward
the Sixth in a general act repealing all felonies of the previous
reign. It was re-enacted three years later with the penalty for
the first offense, one year's imprisonment and the forfeiture of
ten pounds, and for the second offense, the forfeiture of all
one's goods and imprisonment for life. 54 This was repealed at
Mary's accession in a general act similar to the one passed at
Edward's accession, and was not re-enacted. Elizabeth, how
ever, had not been on the throne long before she saw the need
of a similar law and passed one. This act is very interesting
as it rehearses the causes for its passage.
" Forasmuch as sithence the expiration and ending of the statute made
in the time of King Edward the Sixth intituled An Act against fond and
fantastic prophecies, divers evil disposed persons, inclined to the stirring
and moving of factions, seditions and rebellions within the realm, have been
more bold to attempt the like practice in feigning, imagining, inventing and
publishing of such fond and fantastical prophecies, as well concerning the
51 Rotuli Parliamentorum, vol. 3, p. 508.
53 Supra, vol. 3, p. 583 f.
53 Statute 33 Henry VIII, c. XIV.
"Statute 3, 4 Edward VI, c. XV.
Queen's Majesty as divers honourable personages, gentlemen and others
of this realm, as was used and practised before the making of the said
statute, to the great disquiet, trouble and peril of the Queen's Majesty and
of this her realm.
II For remedy whereof, be it ordained and enacted by the authority of
this present Parliament,
" That if any person and persons, after the first day of May next com
ing do advisedly and directly advance, publish and set forth by writing,
printing, signing or any other open speech or deed, to any person or per
sons any fond, fantastical or false prophecy, upon or by occasion of any
arms, fields, beasts, badges or such other like things accustomed in arms,
cognizances or signets or upon or by reason of any time, year or day,
name, bloodshed or war to the intent thereby to make any rebellion, in
surrection, dissension, loss of life or other disturbance within this realm
or other the Queen's dominions ; That then every such person being thereof
lawfully convicted according to the due course of the laws of this realm,
for every such offense shall suffer imprisonment of his body for the space
of one year, without bail of mainprise, and shall forfeit for every such
offense the sum of ten pounds." 65
Further clauses provide that for the second offence the
offender shall be imprisoned for life and forfeit all of his
property, one half going to the Queen, the other half to the
prosecuting witness. The prosecution, however, had to be
begun within six months after the offense had been committed.
These laws did not go unviolated. One of the charges against
Rhys ap Griffith in his trial for treason was that he had caused
to be circulated the prophecy on James, the Red Hand and the
Ravens. The Duke of Buckingham seems also to have been
accused of relying too much on these fond, fantastical proph
ecies. The Duke of Norfolk at his trial in I57I 56 was accused
of keeping by him a prophecy which was interpreted to mean
that Elizabeth should lose the throne, that he should marry
Mary of Scotland, and that his children by her should inherit
the throne. This prophecy is in Latin, and uses the traditional
animal symbolism. It runs,
" In exaltatione lunae leo succumbet, et leo cum leone conjungetur, et
catuli eorum regnabunt."
At the trial it was translated and interpreted thus :
155 Statute 5 Elizabeth, c. XV.
BS Jardine, Criminal Trials, London, 1832, vol. i, p. 175.
"At the exaltation of the moon (Percy of Northumberland) the lion
(Elizabeth) shall be overthrown; then shall the lion (Norfolk) be joined
with the lioness (Mary), and their whelps shall have the kingdom."
According to Hickford's deposition read at the trial, this
prophecy was originally five or six lines long.
The instances in which prophecies were used as political
propaganda and the laws passed by the English kings against
the use of them show very forcibly how deeply the genre had
penetrated into the life and thoughts of Englishmen. In the
course of the study it has been necessary to discuss prophecies
which contain little or no animal-symbolism. It is now time
to study the genre in the course of its development and to
observe the phenomena that marked its rise, flourishing period,
THE DEVELOPMENT AND DECLINE OF THE POLITICAL
The origin of the prophecy has now been, discussed, and
the more important examples of the type have been described
at some length. The relation between the prophecies and the
political history of England has also been shown. It is now
time to consider the genre as a whole, and to observe the
phenomena that attended its development and its decline in
The prophecy shared with the other types of English litera
ture in the progress from Latin through Anglo-French to
expression in some form of vernacular English. It made its
first appearance on English soil in Latin, into which it had
been translated from the Welsh. Those prophecies which date
from the twelfth or early thirteenth century are, with the
exception of the Here Prophecy, in Latin. In the thirteenth
century, especially towards its close, prophecies are found in
Anglo-French. The vernacular prophecy gained strength in
the fourteenth century, and thereafter English came to be
more and more the usual means of vaticinal expression. The
linguistic periods of the prophecies, however, cannot be marked
so sharply. The writing of prophecies in Latin continued into
the reign of James the First, and Latin prophecies were printed
and interpreted as late as 1651. The French forms were more
ephemeral, few if any surviving the fifteenth century, for very
obvious reasons. Latin was the language of the learned and
endured for centuries as such. But when the inhabitants of
England ceased to speak French, few of them read French.
What was interesting to them in their Anglo-French literature
was translated either into Latin or into some English dialect.
All three dialects of Middle English are represented. Prophe
cies in English are found as early as c. 1190, as in the case of
The Here Prophecy, but they are not frequent until after the
beginning of the fourteenth century.
From the beginning the prophecies were accompanied by
notes and interpretations, or served as bases for elaborate com
mentaries. The Book of Merlin seems to have had these notes.
John of Cornwall made a commentary for his Seven Kings.
The Lincoln Cathedral interpretation of Merlin's Prophecies,.
and the elaborate work by Alanus de Insulis have already been
referred to. The Exposition of the Eagle's Prophecy has also
been mentioned. This list continues to the very end of the
seventeenth century. When no other commentary was pro
vided, marginal or interlinear notes frequently supplied the in
formation needed for an understanding of the prophecies.
In the preceding chapters reference has been made to the
re-writing and re-working of older material. Heywood, for
instance, in writing his Prophecies of Merlin took material
from The Book of Merlin and The Six Kings, and combined
it with material gathered from various sources or got from his
own invention. 1 The Cock- in- the- North motive lasted long.
Arising perhaps from a couplet in Bridlington, it found its
way into various English and Scottish poems of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries, and re-written as a ' Prince out of the
North ' was used in the Jacobite Rebellions in the eighteenth
century. The Last-King-of-Rome story, relating to the suc
cessful crusade of an English king and his death in the Holy
Land, was used in prophecies from the thirteenth century on,
and was applied to Edward the Second, Edward the Third,
Henry the Fourth, Henry the Fifth, Henry the Eighth, Charles
the Second, and the Stuart Pretenders.
No particular literary form ever came to be recognized as the
only proper medium of vaticinal expression. The only quality
the prophecies had in common was obscurity. Latin prose was
used for The Book of Merlin, The Giraldian Collection, The
1 Material from The Six Kings is used beginning with Edward the First,
but Richard the Second is called a Kid instead of the Ass of Wickedness,
and Henry the Fourth a Fox instead of the Accursed Mole. The prophecy
made by Henry the Fifth that Windsor should lose what Monmouth should
gain is worked into the account of his reign. After the time of Henry
the Fifth Heywood makes the best of what material he finds at his hand.
Exposition of the Eagle's Prophecy, and numerous short pieces.
The Latin version of The Six Kings is in prose as is Asinus
Coronatus. Prose is also used in the Anglo-French version of
The Six Kings. John of Cornwall, however, chose to put his
version of Merlin's prophecies into metrical form, using as his
medium of expression the Latin hexameter. Bridlington, like
many short vaticinal pieces in Latin, was written in leonine
lines. Vernacular prophecies are in both prose and verse,
those in verse using various metrical forms. Becket may
serve as an example of those written in alliterative long lines.
The Six Kings is written in riming couplets which, however,
cannot be scanned easily. The prevailing line seems to be
iambic and octosyllabic, but the first unstressed syllable and the
unstressed syllable occurring after a strong pause are some
times omitted. Adam Davy's Dreams is also written in riming
couplets in what seems to be tumbling-measures. The ballad
stanza was very popular, especially after the close of the four
teenth century. One of the earliest analogs of Erceldoune is
the Northumbrian ballad which has already been described.
Erceldoune and its later versions, The Cock in the North and
its revisions, and several poems in The Whole Prophecy are
written in the ballad stanza. The Prophecy of the Fishes is
written in an intricate stanzaic form which combines rime and
alliteration, but the position of the riming lines varies in each
stanza. A closer study of the prophecies would perhaps reveal
greater metrical variety, but the cases cited are sufficient to
show that this variety exists.
One of the most noticeable phenomena in the history of the
Galfridian prophecy is the change in the symbols. Those in
The Book of Merlin were arbitrary. If one could trace them
to their Welsh originals he might find that they were petrified
metaphors used in much the same way as the Welsh epithets
which were studied in the second chapter. However, from the
point of view of English literary history the animal names are
purely arbitrary and mean nothing. Some of these arbitrary
symbols were remembered and applied to the same individuals
for several generations. They then became conventional. At
times the symbols fit the character of the man. Henry the
Third, who was a pious and good man though a weak king,
is called the Lamb. Edward the Second was uniformly re
ferred to as the Goat. Those who called Richard the Second
the Ass of Wickedness were perhaps his enemies, and those
who called him the Lamb his friends. This, however, is pure
supposition and must not be pushed too far. Sextus, though
not an animal name, became a purely conventional symbol.
The ' Lynx seeing through all things,' applied for a time to
John, survived to be used as a conventional, traditional, and
arbitrary symbol in The Exposition of the Eagle's Prophecy.
The use of the Crab for the King of Scotland in this same
piece antedates Bridlington, and is another instance of the
arbitrary symbol that became conventional. These conven
tional symbols lasted until 1651. The Son of the Eagle was
then interpreted as the Prince who later became Charles the
Not infrequently a symbol was used with some special
significance where it first occurred, but later lost its significance
and became conventionalized. Such seems to be the origin of
The Cock in the North. This was perhaps only a translated
pun used in Bridlington for the King of France and applied to
the Black Prince. When this Prince failed to become King of
France, the symbol was conventionalized and made traditional.
Even after the symbol itself was dropped the expectation of a
Prince from the North remained. The history of the Leaf-
from-the-left-side-of-Bruce and the French-Wife's-Son, both
of which were later combined, is much the same.
The obscurity of the prophecies was due in large measure
to uncertainty as to whom the symbols represented. A key
was necessary for the understanding and explanation of them.
Such obscurity defeated their purpose to some extent. The
difficulty in recognizing the man behind his vaticinal mask was
too great. The situation, however, was relieved by the rise
of heraldry 2 which afforded for every prominent man a symbol
that was readily intelligible. The earliest prophecy contain
ing heraldic symbols that has been found in the course of this
2 Heraldry was practised in England as early as the reign of Richard
the First ; how much earlier is uncertain.
study dates perhaps from the middle of the thirteenth century.
It is a prophecy attributed to Merlin in The History of Fulk
Fitzwaxrine? Merlin is here said to have prophesied that a
Wolf would come out of the White-Land and overcome the
Leopard. By the Wolf was meant Fulk, who bore on his
shield a wolf's head with four teeth exposed; by the Leopard
King John, who bore ' the leopards of beaten gold.' Earlier in
the History it had been said that the Wolf would first drive
out the Boar. This was perhaps Morris FitzRoger, who was
defeated by the hero and who is described earlier in the book
as bearing two boars of gold on a shield of green. Few
examples of heraldic symbols are found in the thirteenth cen
tury. After the beginning of the fourteenth they occur more
frequently. The Latin prophecy beginning Anglia transmittet
Leopardum is an example. In it the Leopard which appeared
on the shield of the King of England was used for the King
himself, and the Lily by a similar figure of speech for the King
of France. In Becket the imperial Eagle was used for the
Emperor himself. The Lily came to be used as a conventional
symbol for France or her King, but the kings of England were
more often known by their individual crests or badges.
Richard the Third, for instance, was referred to as the White
Boar, which was his special cognizance.
Prophecies containing symbols derived from heraldry only
are rare. The Merlin prophecies in The History of Fulk
Fitzwarine are good examples. Another seems to be a six
teenth century collection called Metrical Prophecies.^ A Bear,
a Dragon, an Eagle, a Falcon, a White Horse, the Cock of the
North, a Wolf, and a Water-Bogie appear in the course of the
narrative. Marginal explanations are given for all but the last
three. The Cock of the North may stand for Henry the
Eighth, who took the Cock as his crest. The other two may
well be heraldic, since all but the Cock plainly are. A super
scription to The Metrical Prophecies shows that the copy was
3 The History of Fulk Fitzwarine, ed. T. Wright, London, 1855. This
is an Anglo-French prose romance that dates from the early fourteenth
century. Wright and Ward (Cat. i, 501) think it originally metrical and
composed c. 1254. The prophecy is in verse.
* Reliquiae Antiquae, II, 12-13.
made on July 19, 1552. A short introduction shows that the
prophecy as it there occurs was meant for the same year. It
must be older, for the ruler of the country is spoken of as a
king who should beget on a poor maiden a flower ' that schalle
warne alle kinges as he leste every ow r ere.'
As a rule both arbitrary and heraldic symbols are found in
the same prophecy. The more important characters in The
Six Kings are given arbitrary names, but Gaveston is called
the Eagle of Cornwall, for he bore eagles on his shield. Both
kinds of symbols are used in Bridlington. Edward the Third
is the Bull, Prince Edward the Cock, the King of Scotland the
Crab, not to mention others. But various other animal names
that occur in the prophecy are explained in the notes as repre
senting nobles who bore such animal figures in their coats of
arms. Brandl attempts to interpret some of the symbols in
Erceldoune as heraldic emblems, such as the Heron and the
Bastard, regarding the Falcon, the Raven, the Tercelets, and
the Crow as arbitrary names. The same is true of his interpre
tation of The Cock in the North. The Bull and the Moon are
taken to stand for the Earls of Westmoreland and Northum
berland respectively. An attempt to explain the Cock as
heraldic presents a difficulty which became characteristic of
this particular kind of symbol. The trouble with animal names
taken arbitrarily was that the mask hid too well the person it
was meant to disguise. With heraldic symbols the difficulty
lay, when heraldry was far advanced, in determining which of
perhaps a hundred cocks or a hundred lions was meant. 6
Certain of the arbitrary symbols were conventionalized and
made traditional. The same thing occurred in the case of cer
tain heraldic symbols. The Lion was used for several genera
tions of Scottish Kings. When it was found necessary to dis
tinguish it from other lions, it was called the Red Lion, as in
the Rymour Prophecy in The Whole Prophecy. Similarly,
though less frequently, the Leopard was used for the English
6 The use of heraldic symbols despite the prohibition of Henry the
Eighth, Edward the Sixth, and Elizabeth flourished, and continued into the
nineteenth century among the Scottish Highlanders. Prophecies of a High
land Seer, C. F. Gumming, in Eclectic, vol. 105, p. 696.
Kings, perhaps only for the first three Edwards. The Dragon,
derived from the ensign of Cadwalader, could represent any
Welsh Prince. In the episode of the Mole in The Six Kings
it was interpreted as applying to Glendower who, as a
champion of the Welsh, had adopted the Dragon for his
standard. The Lily represented any King of France. In like
manner certain symbols recur for different leaders in different
generations of the great noble families. The Moon (tuna)
was used for the leader of the Percies in the fifteenth century
Asinus Coronatus. It was used for the leader of the same
family in the prophecy quoted against the Duke of Norfolk
at his trial in 1572. The Bear, originally the crest of the
Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, was used in the fifteenth
century for Richard Neville, who became Earl of Warwick by
marrying the Beauchamp heiress, and in The Metrical Prophe
cies for Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who had no ancestral right
to the Bear as a crest. Because of this use of conventionalized
symbols it is frequently necessary to have some idea of the
date of a prophecy before one can interpret it properly.
Attention has thus far been given only to those prophecies
which use the Galfridian method of animal symbolism. It
would be a mistake, however, to suppose that English political
vaticinations were written in no other method. Several
prophecies relating to English affairs may be called Sibyllic
according to the conventional initial-reference of this type of
prophecy. This difference exists between the English and the
Continental Sibyllic prophecies. On the continent the
prophecy proceeded as any historical narrative, giving some
attention to details but with initials used for names of persons.
But in England the prophecies written according to the Sibyllic
method were short, concise and compact. For instance, one
two lines long, which was attributed to Becket, runs thus :
H. Patre submarcet post R. reget J. qui relicto 9
E. post H. rex fit. E. post E., postea mira.
6 Ward, loc. cit., i, 314.
Cf. Upan's Prophecy (Lilly, loc. cit., 36)
To tell the truth, many one would wonder
Charing Crosse shall be broken asunder
In some cases the initials were combined to form words. An
excellent example of this kind is the so-called Hempe Prophecy,
quoted by Bacon in his essay Of Prophecies. It seems to
have been very popular, for it occurs frequently with only
slight variations. In one version it reads,
" After Hempe is sowen and growen
Kings of England shall be none." 7
H. stood for Henry the Eighth, E. for Edward the Sixth, M.
and P. for Mary and Philip of Spain, and the last E. for
An interesting combination of the Sibyllic and the Galfridian
methods is found in the poem, Six Letters to Save Merry Eng
land* The narrator while walking in Cheapside saw a lady
embroidering a garment with twelve letters which she said
were to save merry England. The letters were five R's, two
E's, W, F, M, Y, S. Three of the R's stood for three men
named Richard, one for the Rose (which the editor interprets
as the White Rose of York), and one for the Ragged Staff
(the badge of the Earl of Warwick). One E. stood for
Edward, the other for the Eagle (the badge of the Earl of
Salisbury). M. represented the Earl of March, W. the Earl
of Warwick, S. the Earl of Salisbury, and F. the Fetterlock
(the badge of Edward the Fourth). All these, said the lady,
work together for King Edward's weal and the destruction of
treason. The use of initials makes the prophecy Sibyllic.
But since four of the letters stand for heraldic badges, they
are vaticinal symbols and make the prophecy in part Galfridian.
One finds, furthermore, curious prophecies which do not ful
fill the requirements of either the Galfridian or the Sibyllic
P. shall preach, R. shall reach, S. shall stand stiff
P. presbytery, R. Roundhead, S. souldier.
and also (Lilly, loc. cit., 57)
Accursed in E. Norman's heire,
England's crown shall never wear.
7 Harington, Trad on Sue., p. 17.
8 F. J. Furnivall, Political, Religious, and Love Poems, E. E. T. S., O. S.
15, p. i f.
type. 9 Two very interesting prophecies, which are worked
into one poem in a manuscript among the state papers of
Henry the Eighth, 10 make use of dicing terms. The poem
runs as follows;
" Then quater shall a-Ryse
and set uppe sise,
Then England shal bee in paradyse.
When trey and quater ys myswente,
Then all England shall bee shente,
Then shall ye have a newe parliament ;
Then cinq (sise ?) shall a-Ryse, and cinq shall undre,
A ded man shall a-Ryse, And that shal bee greate wondre ;
He that (is) dedde and buryed in sight shall a-Ryse agayn and lyve
in land, In comforting of a yonge knyght
That Fortune hath chosyn to be his feer. u
" Whan sise ys the best caste of the dyesce
And oon beryth uppe sise
Then England ys paradysce.
But when cinq and quater bee set a-syde,
The worde of sise shall sprynge full wyde ;
But when deuce put owte trey, Then ys all shente,
for than we shall have a newe parliament.
Yet sise shall uppe, and ace shall undre ;
When dedde men Ryse, It shal bee greate wonder.
The Lyon, the Redrose, and the flower de Luce,
The Locke shall undo deuse,
Yet sise shall bere the price,
And ace shall help therto." 12
9 In the nineteenth century at the time of the Franco-Prussian War many
numerical prophecies were published. (Cf. Notes and Queries, series 4,
vol. 12.) In these, certain combinations of certain numbers gave the date
of a supposedly eventful year. It is needless to say that they are unin
telligible without a key.
10 F. J. Furnivall, Ballads from Ms., p. 318 f.
11 Cf. two lines from The Prophesie of Marlyng in The Whole Prophecy :
Syce shall up, and sink shall onder.
the ded shall rise, and worke great wonder.
12 The date 1450 is written at the close of another version in Ms. Har-
leian 7332. The Sink and Fire Prophecy seems to be a corrupt version of
this. " The synke & the fyre shal be guylgully bought. And when the fyre
standythe under the synke ! then stands England without a rightous kyng
but the vi shal shall (sic) upp & the synk shall under
When did men ryse there wylbe moche wonder"
(Notes and Queries, series 4, vol. 12, p. 223 : cf. The Best Cast of the Dice,
Notes and Queries, he. cit., p. 443.)
The remaining lines of the prophecy contain nothing interest
ing. The typical animal-symbolism creeps into it sufficiently to
make the prophecy Galfridian.
Just as the kind of symbols changed, so the manner of carry
ing on the narrative changed. In The Book of Merlin animal
names were usually employed but not exclusively. Sometimes
other symbols were used, as in the case of the tree with three
branches, and in the case of the three fountains of Win
chester. But the whole piece reads very much like a beast-
tale. The material is condensed, and the episodes follow each
other compactly in rapid succession. Few episodes that are
not meant to express pure action are introduced. 13 The same
is true of The Giraldian Collection,, and, to a less extent, of
The Seven Kings. The Cock in the North and The Prophecy
of the Fishes are both written in the Galfridian method. As
late as 1572 this method was preserved in its purity in the
prophecy used against the Duke of Norfolk.
On the other hand, prophecies are found which are straight
forward narrative without symbols. Prophetic obscurity is
obtained by slight allusions more or less indefinite to the events
and conditions which the given piece attempts to portray. The
Here Prophecy, though brief, is an excellent and early example,
for in it only a suggestion of the situation is given. The
Grebner and the Pseudo-Grebner prophecies are both straight
forward narratives with no attempt at disguise. The obscurity
lies in faint allusion and slight suggestion. The events pre
dicted, such as wars between countries and the fall of great
cities, are plain and unmistakable enough.
Some prophecies combine the symbolical and direct methods.
The vaticinal part of Becket is imbedded in pure narrative of
travel. The battles of Caen and Mount joy and the burning
of Abbeville are foretold without any attempt at vaticinal
disguise. In Bridlington the symbolical parts are only a small
portion of the whole. The internal affairs of the realm, the
taxes, the plague, the various miseries and sufferings of the
13 An exception must be made in the case of the episode, " The half shall
be round," which relates to the coinage of Henry the First, and similar
people, the misconduct of the king, all are told without re
course to symbols. In Erceldoune many elements are fused.
The first fytte with its romance motive is irrelevant to this
study. The second fytte is largely simple and direct narrative.
Even in the third fytte the symbols are few. In fact, one
coming to Erceldoune without a fair knowledge of the genre
might have some justification for not considering it an example
of the type. Many of the prophecies quoted by Lilly contain
only one or two symbols while the rest is direct statement.
It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the type in its
purity did not survive to the end of the period.
Other pieces are to be found which avoid prophetic symbols
altogether or use them sparingly, and which gain the requisite
amount of uncertainty by employing figurative, metaphorical,
and highly colored or bombastic language. The old Vision of
Edward the Confessor, described in the first chapter of this
book, is an allegory though expressed somewhat simply. The
meaning is rather hard to comprehend, and the application is
difficult to make. The prophecy attributed by Lilly to the
Scottish Merlin and quoted in the preceding chapter is written
in vivid, and very figurative language. These are not to be
regarded as purely literary efforts with no reference at all to
political history. The highly ornate and rhetorical Latin style
of Bridling ton is analogous. In fact, Bridlington except for
the occasional animal-symbolism would be an excellent example
of this rhetorical class.
There are also prophecies which have no rhetorical elabora
tion and in which the events are not described in direct style,
and which have no symbols. The effect is sometimes gained
by the use of paradox and by narrating as fact things which
seem impossible. The Harleian prophecy of Erceldoune, quoted
in full in the third chapter, is such. The wedding of lads
with ladies was something supposedly impossible because of
the difference in social rank. The ending of the war whenever
the hare should kittle on the hearth-stone was something of a
paradox. It must be said that few examples of these para
doxical prophecies have been found in the course of this
study. This class lent itself to parody and burlesque as will
be shown later.
Prophetic pictures constitute another very interesting kind
of prophecies. The vaticinal tapestry said by Barbour to have
been made by Saint Margaret has been mentioned in the review
of Scottish prophecies. The earliest pictures of this kind that
have come to the notice of the present writer are The Oracles
of Leo the Philosopher,^ which date from the eleventh century
and relate to Byzantine affairs. Pictures of this kind became
very popular on the continent during the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, and series of them were published by men of author
ity as philosophers. They were known in England as early as
1586, when the Earl of Northampton 15 speaks of them as if
they were quite common. William Lilly devoted the last twenty
pages of his Monarchy or no Monarchy to nineteen pictures
in which he attempted to prefigure the history of England for
several hundred years beyond his own time. These pictures
were not without imitators.
The first of Lilly's pictures are concerned with the Puritan
Rebellion. The second of the series, for instance, by the repre
sentation of two prelates tumbling from their pulpits shows
the overthrow of the Established Church. The sixth with its
four starving and dying cows obviously was meant to show a
famine. A plague is evidently predicted in the eighth which
shows several shrouded bodies, a pest-house, and two men dig
ging graves. The Fire of London was anticipated by the
thirteenth which pictures a city in flames. In several pictures
there seems evidence that Lilly knew the episode in The Six
Kings relating to the Mole, the Wolf, the Dragon, and the Lion.
In the tenth picture the Mole is seen approaching the crown.
In the twelfth the Mole, the Dragon, and the Lion figure.
Rivers of blood, apparently shed in the strife between the Mole
and the Dragon, are seen in the fourteenth. In the fifteenth the
Wolf and the Lion are shown embracing each other most
joyously, while the Mole seems to be in great distress. The
seventeenth picture shows the Lion, the Wolf, and the Dragon
ruling the land, and the Mole and his family dead.
14 K. Krumbacher, Geschichte d. byzantinischen Literatur. Munchen,
1891, p., 249, 402. For the pictures see Migne, Pat. Graecae, 107, 1130,
15 Earl of Northampton, Defensative, c. CXXIII.
In 1651 the Galfridian prophecy was plainly decadent.
Those examples which represented the type in its vigor and
purity were usually survivals from the earlier centuries. One
cannot deny, however, that vaticinal pieces, such as The
Northern Lion, quoted by Lilly, are to be found with Galfri
dian elements, but in comparison with the original form as
exemplified in The Book of Merlin they seem weak and at
times almost puerile. 16 No long sustained work like The Book
of Merlin, Bridlington, Erceldoune, or The Six Kings was
produced. The most important production so far as length is
concerned is The Whole Prophecy, which is but a collection of
older material. The Sibyllic prophecy attributed to Becket,
The Hempe Prophecy, The Mars Prophecy, 17 and similar pieces
are certainly emasculated specimens. Prophecies too fre
quently degenerated into merely local predictions, such as that
quoted by Lincoln in Sir Thomas More 18 ' that Lincoln should
be hanged for London's sake.' Many similar things can be
16 Cf. the exquisite absurdity of William's Prophecy (Lilly, 69).
Christ went to court some seven years since
and there he left his Asse.
The Courtiers kickt him out of doores,
because there was no grasse.
The Beast went mourning ever since,
and thus I heard him Braye;
Although there was no grasse at court,
they might have given me Haye.
But sixteen hundred fourty one
Who ere shall live that day
Nothing shall see within that court,
But only grasse and Hay.
And then you may be sure,
The yeare that next ensues,
One silly Asse shall be more worth
Than all the Horse ith' Mewes.
17 Mars Puer Alecto Virgo Vulpes Leo Nullus.
Henry 8 Edward 6 Mary Elizabeth James i Charles i
Sir Thomas More, Act III, Sc. i, line 47 ed. Tucker Brooke, The
Shakespeare Apocrypha, Oxford, 1908.
found in Nixon's Cheshire Prophecies. For the animal-
symbolism, which was impressive in a way, vulgar prodigies
were used. Instead of a glorious Dragon one was to expect a
' Miller with two thumbs.' The prodigies are usually charac
teristic of local prophecies.
One reason, perhaps, for this decadence was the fact that
another outlet for vaticinal inclinations was found in the
growing popularity of astrology. Astrological predictions and
prognostications appear in England early in the sixteenth
century. 20 A Prognostication was printed in black letter for
Richard Banckes in 1523. An Almanac and Prognostication
for 1530 by Caspar Laet the Younger was printed in English at
'Antwerp in 1530. Another for the following year by the same
man was printed in London. Thereafter almanacs, prognosti
cations, astrological predictions, and books on astrology become
very frequent. Professional astrologers such as Arise Evans,
John Dee, Richard and John Harvey, Dr. Simon Forman, Sir
George Wharton, H. Johnsen, John Booker, John Case, Coley,
Lilly, and Partridge rose to positions of power and influence
in the nation. 21
The nature of these astrological predictions may be inferred
from Grebner's prophecy on the conjunction of Saturn and
Jupiter, July, 1623 : 22
" i. Divers sinister events shall seeme to conspire together for the
crossing of a great Prince, who by opposing the common People, shall in
the end drive them to Sedition.
" 2. The Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the House Celestial, called
that of Death, doth portend that some Prince shall be detained prisoner,
to the great disadvantage of his affaires of Estate.
" 3. Upon the first quarter of the Moon, which shall be the 27. of Feb
ruary is foretold, That some King or Prince shall undertake a voyage of
great consequence without certainty of return, which at the best shall both
be later than expectation, and after the enduring of many miseries.
19 Notes and Queries, series 4, vol. 3, p. 609; The Palatine Anthology,
London, 1850, p. 161 f.
20 Englishmen had known something of astrology at a much earlier date.
Robert of Torigny, Chronicle, R. S., London 1889, p. 283, quotes an astro
logical prediction of 1179.
21 See these names in Dictionary of National Biography.
23 Lilly, 27 f.
" 4- He which shall stand on the top of Fortune's wheel, let him look
warily to his feet for fear of slipping ; because so great a fall is threatened
him, as shall procure his utter ruine ; which shall astonish those who have
climbed up into the seats of honor unworthily.
" 5. A monarch that hath betrusted his affaires of great Consequence
to the direction of one, who was no way capable of so weighty a charge,
shall be sensible of the great fault he hath committed, whereof he shall too
" 6. The stirrers and Incendiaries of Sedition shall make residence in
the Houses of Kings and Princes.
" 7. War deferred through want of money.
" 8. The Land and Town Geminist shall bewaile the want of her Sun.
" 9. Here shall be great levying of Souldiers for the execution of some
stratagem, but all shall turn to nothing; for the sudden departure of a
great Personage shall cause much Murmuring and Discontent.
" 10. Men disguised shall desire that their outward semblance may make
shew of that which they are not, and shall be Authors of many particular
combats in the Land Geminist."
The Prognosticall Judgement of the Great Conjunction
which shall happen the 28the of April, by Robert Tanner,
entered in the Stationers' Register under date of March n,
1583, seems to have been much the same kind of thing. The
conjunction referred to was doubtless one between Saturn and
Jupiter. Another book on the conjunction of these planets
was entered April 12 of the same year.
The annual prognostications popular in the seventeenth
century began very early, and were at first mere proverbial
weather predictions. A set of prognostications in Latin, dating
from the first half of the eleventh century, relate to the signs
of the weather as shown by the sun and moon. 23 In another set
the weather is foretold from its state on certain days of the
year, one of which is the second of February. 24 In still another
the state of the weather during the different seasons is fore
told according to the day of the week with which the year
begins. For instance, if the first day of the year is Sunday,
the Winter will be mild, Spring windy, Summer and Autumn
dry. But if the first day of the year is Saturday, it will be a
bad year for everybody. 25 Such seems to have been the simplest
23 Rel. Antiq., i, 15.
24 Supra, 93.
25 Ms. Cotton. Vesp. D., 14.
form of the annual prognostication, a general and proverbial
statement of weather signs. This came in time to result in
prophecies that attempted to predict the events of the year for
which they were cast. 26 These events included perhaps
political affairs and the phenomena of the weather. The com
bination of this annual prognostication with the astrological
prediction gave the Elizabethan almanac, from which the alma
nac of the present day is directly and legitimately descended.
Unfortunately, the present writer has not been able to exa
mine the Elizabethan almanacs that are extant. It is possible,
however, to judge of the contents of the average specimen
from the descriptions given in entries in the Stationers'
Register, and from burlesques on the form. Gayle's Almanac
and Prognostication, licensed in 1566 and again in 1567, con
tained information concerning surgery. An Almanac for the
Months was licensed in 1563 by Owen Roger. Joachim Hew-
brighfs Almanac and Prognostication, licensed in 1566, was
published ' with the breffe and profytable Rule for marynours
to know the ebbes floodes Sowndynges landynges Markes and
Dangers/ An Almanac with the Names of the Kynges,
licensed in 1566, evidently contained bits of historical informa
tion. Dernyll's Merry Prognostication for 1567 may have been
a joke-book. The Raven's Almanac, licensed to Laurence Lyle
July 7, 1608, contained predictions of famines, plagues, and
It is possible to reconstruct for present purposes the typical
almanac from Dekker's Raven's Almanac, which is evidently a
burlesque of the last book mentioned in the preceding para-
26 Prophecies of the regular Galfridian type were written for certain
years. The Tolle caput Martis is an excellent example. Its earliest form
dates from the late thirteenth century at the time of the expected birth
of the prince who later became Edward the Second. In the Exposition
of the Eagle's Prophecy definite dates are set for some of the happenings
predicted therein. In the Latin Prophecies against Edward the Third 1381
is given as the exact date for the extinction of his dynasty. Several
prophecies each for a special year are contained in Ms. Cotton. Vesp. E.
graph.- 27 If the contents of the book, burlesque as it is, furnish
a guide, one would infer that the usual almanac of the time
contained an epistle to the reader, the astrological figure of the
Signs of the Zodiac, and a dissertation on the influence exerted
by the signs on the different parts of the body, predictions for
the twelve months, each introduced by a quatrain of dietary
advice, a list of the festivals and Saints' Days in each month,
the time of sunrise and sunset for each day, predictions for the
four seasons and the names of diseases peculiar to each season
with the appropriate remedies, the distinctive characteristics of
people born in each season, and perhaps short illustrative
pieces of narrative.
The reasons for the decadence of the type are not far to
seek. The stringent laws passed by the Tudors, and continued
by their successors, against the use of prophecies had a strong
and lasting effect. What prophecies survived this judicial
ordeal had few Galfridian elements. The growing freedom
from superstition had its influence as well on the belief in all
kinds of prophecies. People were likely to be more skeptical
and to doubt the inspiration of those who set themselves up, or
were set up by others, as prophets. Merlin's reputation had
been failing not only in England but also in the rest of Europe
since a decree of the Council of Trent had been passed against
him, and since his prophecies has been listed in the Index
Expurgatorius. Men of intellect ceased to believe the proph
ecies, however much the vulgar may have cherished them.
Bacon in England and Montaigne in France each devoted an
essay to preaching against prophecies and prognostications.
Bacon's essay, Of Prophecies, the thirty-fifth in the collected
series, is rather short, for he treats the subject in a very
desultory way. He says in the beginning:
27 Dekker's title-page reads : The Raven's Almanac Foretelling of a Plague,
Famine and Civill Warre. That shall happen this present yeare 1609,
not only within this Kingdome of Great Britaine, but also in France, Ger
many, Spaine, and other parts of Christendome. With certaine Remedies,
Rules and Receipts, how to prevent, or at least to abate the edge of these
universal calamities. London. Printed by F. A. for Thomas Archer, and
are to be solde at his Shop in the Popeshead-Pallace nere the Royall
" I mean not to speak of divine prophecies : nor of heathen oracles : nor
of natural predictions : but only of prophecies that have been of certain
memory, and from hidden causes."
He calls to mind several classical prophecies and dreams,
such as the prophecy of Caesar's Ghost to Brutus regarding
Philippi. He then speaks of prophecies in England and quotes
Hempe. He also quotes another which antedated the Armada
but was supposed to have predicted it. In closing he says :
" My judgment is, that they ought all to be despised ; and ought to serve
but for winter talk by the fireside. Though when I say despised, I mean
it as for belief ; for otherwise, the spreading, and publishing of them is in
no sort to be despised. For they have done much mischief ; and I see
many severe laws made to suppress them. That that hath given them
grace, and some credit, consisteth in three things. First, that men mark
when they hit, and never mark when they miss ; as they do generally of
dreams. The second is, that probable conjectures, or obscure traditions,
many times turn themselves into prophecies ; whilst the nature of man,
which coveteth divination, thinks it no peril to foretell that which indeed
they do but collect. . . . The third and last (which is the great one) is,
that almost all of them, being infinite in number, have been impostures, and
by idle and crafty brains were combined and feigned after the event
The Earl of Northampton had indeed gone farther than
Bacon in his opposition to prophecies. In the DefensaUve** he
28 Northampton wrote the book while he was in retirement at St. Alban's
in 1583 and dedicated it to Sir Francis Walsingham. (See Diet. Nat. Biog.,
vol. 28, p. 29, ed. 1892.) The author incurred the suspicion of treason and
heresy in the book and was sent to the Fleet in 1583. In the second edi
tion the Defensative contains an Epistle Dedicatory, a letter To the Reader,
and thirty-six chapters of varying length. The whole makes a book of three
hundred and thirty pages. Who was responsible for the augmentation and
division into chapters of this edition has not been learned. The title page
of this second edition is a fair indication of its contents and its writer's
attitude. It reads : A Defensative against the poyson of supposed Prophe
cies. Not hitherto confuted by the Pen of any Man, which being grounded,
either upon the warrant and Authority of Old Painted Bookes, Expositions
of Dreames, Oracles, Revelations, Invocations of damned Spirits, Judicials
of Astrologie, or any other kinde of pretended knowledge whatsoever, De
futuris contingentibus ; have been causes of great disorder in the Common
wealth, especially among the simple and unlearned people. Very needful
to be published, considering the great offence which grew by most palpable
and grosse errors in Astrologie. Written by Henry Howard, late Earle of
takes the position that prophecies are 'but the scum of pride
and the dregs of ignorance/ that prophecies cannot alter God's
law, and that God himself through the instrumentality of a
chosen few reveals what he wishes to have known. The Earl
rejects every prophecy that has no Biblical authority, and
accepts those in the Bible in a spirit that smacks somewhat of
a necessity to avoid a charge of infidelity. He rejects ' what
soever kind of prophecy which presumes to divine or aim at
any future accident whose means are not already set on work ;
but merely to come without the knowledge of the next most
natural and most proper causes/ He first endeavors to deter
mine the causes that prompt men to pry into the future. He
finds them to be: first, 'scruples of suspect and jealousy im
planted by Satan ' ; secondly, diffidence and deep mistrust in
God ; thirdly, ' vain and rash credulity/ which he calls the nurse
of error; fourthly, 'curiosity to search and hunt for deeper
knowledge, after future causes and affairs of the Common
wealth, than God pleases to make known by ordinary means/
After showing how unworthy are the things which give rise to
desire for divination he proceeds to refute some arguments
that had been advanced in favor of prophecies. The fact that
so many people would not have believed in prophecies without
good grounds, he insists is no proof at all, saying that human
nature was always prone to please itself with shadows and
conceits, and that truth is justified by weight, not by number.
To those that heed prophecies because they make men more
wary in abstaining from offence (an argument advanced in the
introduction to Bridlingtori) , he says that a man may not do
evil in the hope of good results, that experience shows more
people puffed up with pride than reclaimed from the rage of
sin, and that warnings of our frail and slippery state are not
so rare and dainty that one need repair to the closets of false
oracles. The author then discusses all the methods of divina
tion and proves by the precept of ancient philosophers and of
Northampton, Lord Privy Seale, etc. Now newly revised and divided into
divers severall Heads and Chapters. Printed by John Charlewood, servant
to the right honorable Philip Earle of Arundel, 1583. And reprinted by
W. Jaggard, and to be sold by Matthew Lownes in Pauls churchyard, at
the signe of the Bishopshead, 1620.
the Church Fathers that these methods are really nonsense.
He denies inspiration for secular prophecies but affirms it for
the religious prophecies. The book is disappointing in that it
bears so little on English material, but deals largely with
examples taken from Biblical and Classical history. 29
Opposition to belief in prophecies was shown not only by
adverse legislation and long arguments, but also by parodies,
satires, and burlesques on the type. This method of attack
was begun as early as the third quarter of the fourteenth cen
tury. It is used twice in the B- and C-texts of Piers the Plow
man. The first example occurs in the third passus:
" Non levabit gens contra gent em gladium. etc.
And er bis fortune falle ' fynde men shal J?e worste,
By six sonnes and a schippe * and half a shef of arwes ;
And J>e myddel of a mone * shal make J>e jewes to torne,
And saracenes for J>at sigte ' shulle synge gloria in excelsis &,
For Makomet & Mede * myshappe shal bat tyme." (Lines 321-327)
The second occurs at the end of the sixth passus:
" Ac I warne Sow, werkemen * wynneth while S e mowe,
For hunger hiderward ' hastest hym faste,
He shal awake with water * wastours to chaste.
Ar five S re be fulfilled ' such famyn shal aryse,
Thorowgh flodes and bourgh foule wederes * fruits shul faille
And so sayde saturne * and sent Sw to warne ;
When S e se be sonne amys * and two monkes hedes,
And a Mayde have be maistrie * and multiplie bi eight,
banne shal deth withdrawe * and derthe be justice,
And dawe be dyker " deye for hunger,
But if god of his goodness * graunt us a trewe." (Lines 322-332)
These passages sound very much as if they were deliberate
parodies of actual prophecies then popular.
29 Compare John Spencer, A Discourse Concerning Vulgar Prophecies,
London, 1665. Spencer accepts the inspiration of the Biblical prophecies
but denies it for the others. He says that secular prophecies have a bad
influence on Church and State and that belief in them weakens the under
standing and produces ill consequences in common life. He shows that
secular prophecies are forgeries, and proves to his own satisfaction that
divine prophecy has ceased. The treatment of the subject, though perhaps
considered scholarly in its day, is superficial and shallow. He adds little
to what Northampton said almost a hundred years before.
The parody of the paradoxical vaticination is represented
by Sir John Harington's epigram, A Prophesie Asses shall
grow Elephants : 30
" When making harmful gums, unfruitful glasses,
Shal quite consume our stately Oaks to ashes;
When Law fills all the land with plots and dashes,
When land long quiet, held concealed passes.
When warre and truce playes passes and repasses,
When monopolies are given of toys and trashes;
When Courtiers marre good clothes with cuts & slashes,
When Lads shall think it free to lie with Lasses,
When clergy romes to buy, sell none abashes,
When foul skins are made fair with new found washes,
When Prints are set on work with Greens and Nashes,
When lechers learn to stir up lust with lashes,
When plainnesse vanishes vainnesse surpasses,
Some shall grow Elephants, were known but Asses."
This is at the same time a parody on the prophetic form and
a satire on the manners of the times.
The Elizabethan dramatists as a rule disapproved of the
widespread credence given prophecies, and not infrequently
gave voice to their disapproval. Peele in Edward the First
takes pains to show how Llewelyn was misled by prophecies
which always came true in a way he had not expected. Maxi
milian in Fletcher's play, The Prophetess, speaks opinions
which, though in keeping with the spirit of the play, seem to
be an attack on prophecies and prophets. He says:
" Inspired with full deep cups, who cannot prophesy ?
A tinker, out of ale, will give predictions:
But who believes?" (Act I, scene iii.)
He goes further in his tirade and attributes the prophecies
to the active malice of the Devil himself. Shakspere intro
duced into King Lear a parody on the paradoxical prophecy,
and showed by the words he puts into the mouth of the speaker
his contempt for the whole tradition from Merlin down. The
Fool says :
" He speak a Prophesie ere I go :
When Priests are more in word, than matter;
30 Sir John Harington, Epigrams, I, 83.
When Brewers marre their malt with water;
When Nobles are their Taylors Tutors,
No Heretiques burn'd, but wenches Sutors ;
When every case in Law, is right;
No Squire in debt, nor no poore Knight ;
When Slanders do not live in Tongues ;
Nor Cut-purses come not to throngs;
When Usurers tell their Gold i' th' Field,
And Baudes, and whores, do Churches build,
Then shall the Realme of Albion, come to great confusion ;
Then comes the time, who lives to see't,
That going shal be us'd with feet,
This prophecie Merlin shall make, for I live before his time."
(Act III, scene ii.)
The Raven's Almanac by Dekker has been mentioned, and
some idea of its content given. It is everywhere a deliberate
parody and burlesque, and in places contains satire on the
manners of the times. For instance, the Epistle is a satire on
the life of the fashionable young men of the day. The expla
nation of the zodiacal symbols is at the same time a burlesque
and a satire on the absurdity of astrology. The plagues inci
dent to the year are described in the same fashion. In the
course of the almanac two stories are told which are satires
on women and monks. In this book Dekker was killing
several birds with one stone, using a burlesque of the type
to satirize numerous abuses of the age.
One result of the long popularity of the Galfridian prophecy
in England was that Englishmen became familiar with that
style of narration in which symbols not really allegorical are
used for real living individuals. This familiarity enabled
Robert Greene to use in James the Fourth a bit of narrative in
which the names of animals are used for the names of people.
Sir Cuthbert Anderson at the close of the play in explaining
what had befallen Queen Dorothea says :
" A tender Lyons whelpe,
This other day came stragling in the woods,
Attended by a young and tender hinde,
In courage hautie, yet tyr'd like a lambe.
The Prince of beasts had left this young in keepe,
To foster up as lovemate and compeere,
Unto the Lyons mate, a naibour friend ;
This stately guide, seduced by the fox,
Sent forth an eger woolfe, bred up in France,
That gript the tender whelp, and wounded it,
By chance, as I was hunting in the woods,
I heard the moane the hinde made for the whelpe;
I took them both, and brought them to my house.
With charie care I have recured the one ;
And since I know the lyons are at strife
About the losse and dammage of the young,
I bring her home; make claime to her who list."
The two Lions are the Kings of England and Scotland who
each bore a lion in his coat-of-arms. The Whelpe is of course
Dorothea, daughter of the King of England. Nano is the
hind, Ateukin the Fox, Jacques the Wolf. A change of tense
of the first ten lines from the past to the future would make
the passage a good Galfridian prophecy.
The same style of narrative was used by James Howell in
his Apologs. 31 The second Apolog, called The Great Council
of the Birds, narrates briefly and obscurely the events leading
up to the execution of Charles the First. The Eagle once
called a general assembly of the birds to hear complaints that
the Birds of Prey were doing much damage to the flocks.
The complainants forced the execution of the Griffin, and then
falling upon the Pies drove them away. At length a rebellion
was raised against the Eagle, and many of the flocks deserted.
But the Bird with the Golden Wings, the Falcons, the Chough,
the Ravens, the Martlets, the Swan^ the Birds of the Moun
tains, and the Ostriches remained faithful. Among the de
serters were the White and the Green Dragons. Desertion
continued until at last Philomela, the spouse of the Eagle,
took fright and fled also. As a rule these different bird-
names stand for the noblemen in whose coat-armor the figures
appeared. For instance, the Bird with the Golden Wings is
the Marquis of Hertford, the Swan the Earl of Worcester,
the Griffin the Earl of Strafford. The Pies are the Bishops,
and the Mountain Birds the people of Wales. The Eagle is
used metaphorically for the King, Philomela for the Queen.
81 James Howell, Apologs, or Fables Mythologized, London, 1661.
A similar use of flower-names occurs in the third Apolog
called The Parlement of Flowers.
Heraldic symbols used for the names of men run riot in
Gower's Cronica Tripertita. No names of men occur in the
first part, and few in the later parts. If a symbol is not given,
the name is etymologized, as in Bridlington. A change of
tense, as in the passage from James the Fourth, would make
the whole work an excellent Galfridian prophecy. 32
Examples might be multiplied. The use of a man's heraldic
emblem for his own name came in time to be very common.
It was a convenient means of indirect but readily intelligible
reference. It appears not only in prophecies and long nar
ratives but in shorter pieces and dedications as well. Skelton
in his poem Against the Scottes uses the symbols in the account
"The Whyte Lyon, there rampatmt of moode,
He ragyd and rent out your hart bloode ;
He the Whyte, and ye the Red,
The Whyte there slew the Red starke ded." 33
Spenser uses the same convention in Daphnaida, the elegy he
wrote on Lady Douglas Howard. In the dedication he says:
" Therefore I doe assure myself that no due honour done to the Whyte
Lyon, but will be most grateful to your Ladyship, whose husband and
children do so surely participate with the bloud of that noble family."
In the course of the poem he speaks of Lady Douglas as ' an
ancient Lion's haire,' and as
" A faire young Lionesse,
White as the Native Rose before the chaunge."
It will be shown in the next chapter of this study that the
Galfridian prophecy was transplanted to the Continent, where
33 The Swan is used throughout for Thomas of Gloucester, the Bear for
the Earl of Warwick, the Horse for the Earl of Arundel, the Moon for
the Percies, the Boar for the Veres of Oxford, not to mention others.
Beauchamp of Bridgenorth is called Baro Pans Aquilonis, Nicholas Brem-
33 The White Lion is the Earl of Surrey, the Red Lion the King of
Scotland. These animal figures appeared on the respective shields of
the two men.
it took root and flourished. In Italy a very interesting con
vention grew out of the type, and was introduced into England
somewhat as an exotic. It was the convention of introducing
into the romantic epic a prophecy favorable to the author's
patron. Thus in Orlando Furioso Bradamante visits the
cave of Merlin and hears his voice prophesying the future of
her descendants, whom Ariosto makes the house of Este.
Spenser imitated this in The Faerie Queen. In the third canto
of the third book he makes Merlin prophesy the future of the
family founded by Britomart and Artegall. The family, of
course, was the Tudors, and the patron he wished to flatter
Elizabeth herself. The prophecy is in the main direct, but
a few symbols are used, such as the Raven for the Danes, the
Lion of Neustria for William the Conqueror, and the Castle
(Castile) for Philip of Spain. Milton accepted the convention
but modified it to suit his peculiar purpose. In the eleventh
book of Paradise Lost Michael takes Adam up to a high hill,
and sets before him a vision of events until the time of the
flood. In the twelfth book the course of events is continued
until the time of Abraham. At this point the vision ceases, and
Michael explains to Adam Christ's mission 1 on earth.
In closing the study of the political prophecy in England
a few words should be said by way of summary. Between the
years 1120 and 1135 Geoffrey of Monmouth introduced into
England a new type of literature, the political prophecy which
he got by translating some prophecies of Merlin from the
Welsh. The kind of prophecy he introduced, the Galfridian,
was characterized by an unusual kind of animal-symbolism,
which continued to be its most marked peculiarity even to its
latest days. Geoffrey had countless successors each of whom
used the type to suit his own purposes. Some wrote prophe
cies as literary exercises; others wrote them as political
propaganda. In both literature and politics the influ
ence was far-reaching. In literature, for instance, they
produced the conventions of using heraldic symbols for men
and their families, and of introducing prophecies into romantic
and religious epics. In politics their influence if not directly
* Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, Canto III, stanza 17 f.
responsible for countless rebellions and insurrections at least
was a potent factor. This influence was exerted from the
twelfth century even to the middle of the seventeenth century.
Although other types of prophecy such as the Sibyllic, the
direct, and the rhetorical were used the Galfridian was always
predominant. In the course of time the English people began
to outgrow this superstitious confidence in prophecies, and the
type naturally declined. Parodies, burlesques, satires, and
adverse laws became abundant, until the Galfridian type dis
appeared. Prophecies continued to be written after the year
1700, but they observed other forms and other conventions.
THE GALFRIDIAN PROPHECY IN OTHER COUNTRIES THAN
The history of the political prophecy in England has been
discussed, and the existence of vaticinal literature on the Con
tinent before 1135 has been shown. It is now time to study
the Continental prophecies after 1135. The English Galfridian
type spread to other countries and maintained itself there side
by side with the native Sibyllic type. It became known to
the people of Western Europe through quotations and trans
lations of The Book of Merlin and grew so popular that they
accepted Merlin as their own and attributed purely local
prophecies to him. They early adopted the type itself and
wrote prophecies attributed to other prophets than Merlin but
conforming to conventions of the type. The wealth of material
supplied by this part of the subject is embarrassing, for only a
brief survey is possible here. In presenting the material the
quotations and translations of The Book of Merlin will be
discussed, then the local prophecies attributed to Merlin, and
lastly those written according to the Galfridian method. This
discussion will be followed by general observations on the
history of the type on the Continent.
Merlin's reputation as a prophet was not long confined to
England. His prototype, Ambrosius, whose name was com
bined with his own, had long been known through the work of
Nennius. The story of the white and red dragons must
have been familiar to readers in Western Europe long before
Geoffrey produced The Book of Merlin or the Historia. The
name Merlino^ was known in Italy as early as the late eleventh
century. It is not certain that Geoffrey was the first to as
sociate Merlin with the Arthurian story. Godfrey of Viterbo 2
1 See note 42, Chapter 2.
2 Note 44, Chapter 2.
gives a version of the story that differs in many ways from
Geoffrey's, and makes Merlin a participant in the action. It
would seem that there was in existence another form of the
story, independent of Geoffrey's, and that it must have served
as the source of Godfrey's version. At any rate, Western
Europe was to some extent prepared to receive the prophecies
contained in The Book of Merlin, especially since they were
combined with the familiar dragon-story. It is a significant
fact, furthermore, that the earliest notice of The Book of
Merlin comes not from an English but from a Continental
Merlin and his prophecies were known in Normandy as
early as H35- 3 By the end of the century, however, The Book
of Merlin had penetrated to Central France, and was respect
fully received by statesmen, scholars, and chroniclers alike.
Fragments from it were often quoted either in the original
Latin or in translation. Alanus de Insulis 4 knew it at first
hand before 1179. Geoffrey de Bruil in his Chronicle, written
c. 1183, quotes as a ' Vaticinium Ambrosii Merlini' the passage
relating to the Eagle, 5 and says that it was thought to have been
fulfilled in the marriage of Matilda with Henry the Fifth of
Germany. Suger, the eminent statesman and minister of
Louis the Seventh, in his biography of this king 6 quotes at
length from the Lion-of- Justice passage, ending with the
Nesting of the Eagle. He calls Merlin veracious, and says
that not one word of the prophecy has proved untrue. In the
next century William Brito 7 quotes the passage concerning
' the Lynx penetrating all things,' and applies it to King John.
This author refers to the passage regarding the taxes of
3 Chapter i. How much earlier than 1135 they were known is uncertain.
The last event narrated by Odericus before he quotes from the prophecies
is the death of Duke Robert Curthose, in February, 1134.
* See Chapter 4.
"Geoffrey de Bruil, Chronicle, Pertz, Mon. G. H. XXVI, 201 f. c. 43.
The passage quoted runs, ' Aquila ejus super Aramnum nidificabit.' (Giles,
6 Suger, Oeuvres Completes. Ed. A. Le Coy de la Marche, Paris 1867,
P. 54 *
''Chronicle. Ed. H. Francois Delaborde, Paris, 1882 (Soc. de I'Hist.
Franc.}, p. 293.
Henry the First. Geoffrey's Latin reads, "In diebus illis
dwum ex lilio et urtica extorquebitur, et argentum ex ungulis
mugientum manabit" William writes, 8
" Olim dominabitur Anglis
Argento urticas et lilia qui spoliabit."
Alberic Trium Fontium quotes twice the passage relating to
the ' favor of newcomers.' In Italy in the thirteenth century
Salimbene refers to the passage relating to the Goat and the
Castle of Venus. His words are, " Surget yrcus Veneri castri,
qui alienum gallum abiciet, federabitur aquilcmi, colligabit
sibi aquilam" 9 The passage in the Historia runs, " Succedet
hircus Venerei castri aurea hob ens cornua, et argent earn bar-
bam" Nothing is said of the Cock or Eagle. A passage
from The Giraldian Collection relating to the murder of Becket,
'the son shall slay the father in the womb of the mother/
is quoted by Baldwin Ninovensis 10 and Philip Mouskes. 11
In Italy the record is not so clear, but indirect evidence
leads to the conclusion that the Book of Merlin must have
been known there during the latter part of the twelfth century.
The dragon-story was known, and Merlin's name associated
with it, as Godfrey of Viterbo's account shows. Joachim of
Fiore 12 was said by Salimbene to have made in 1196 an
exposition of the prophecies of the Sibyl and Merlin. These
Dicta Merlini, if ever written, have been lost. Italians of the
twelfth century, however, had every opportunity of knowing
the Galfridian collection, especially after Alanus had written
his elaborate commentary. It is quite within the range of
possibility that members of Richard the First's crusading army
spread the prophecies or news of them during their stay in
Southern Italy. Information concerning them may have come
in from Provence where they were certainly known early in
8 Philippidos. Book VIII, 1. 906, ed. ibid., Paris, '1885, p. 244.
9 N. A., vol. 15, 175.
10 Chronicon in Corpus Chronicorum Flandriae, ed. J. J. de Smeo, 2 vols.,
vol. 2, Brussels, 1841, p. 712.
11 Mouskes. Chronique ed. Le Baron de Reiffenberg, 2 vols., Brussells,
1836-38, Vol. II, p. 260.
u Holder-Egger, Neues Archiv d. Gesch. f. alter, d. Gesch., 15.
the next century. 13 Evidence abounds for the thirteenth cen
tury although the present writer has found no quotations from
Geoffrey's collection in Italian writers. Prophecies ascribed
to Merlin are frequent. Many prophecies answering the re
quirements of the Galfridian type are found. Merlin himself
was quoted in disputes as having equal authority with Daniel
The evidence for Germany is even scantier. Godfrey of
Viterbo may have spread some knowledge of Merlin and the
prophecies during his residence there, but this is merely a possi
bility. The commentary on The Book of Merlin by Alanus de
Insulis may have helped, since Alanus was a famous scholar and
his works may reasonably be supposed to have interested other
scholars in Western Europe. The redactors of the Chronicle
of Alberic Trium Fontium knew at least the two prophetic
fragments quoted therein. 14 Richard of Ireland, a member of
Frederic the Second's court, produced some Prophecies of
Merlin, which, however, have no relation to Geoffrey's Col
lection. They concern Italian affairs, and were probably
written in Italy, not in Germany.
Interest in Merlin was not confined to the Continent. 15 The
13 Chronicle of the Albigensian War, asc. to William of Tudela, ed.
Paul Meyer, 2 vols. ; Paris, 1879, v l 2 > P- J 93 n -
"Pertz. Mon. Ger. Hist., XXIII, 631-950, under the years 1136, 1138.
15 The early manuscripts containing the Historia with the Prophecies in
the Seventh Book or the Prophecies separate from the Historia are widely
scattered. Of twenty-eight manuscripts of the Historia (Hardy T. D.
Descriptive Catalogue of Materials Relating to the History of Great
Britain and Ireland to the end of the reign of Henry Vlllth. R. S., 1862,
London, vol. i, p. 341 f.) dating from the twelfth century two are
found in the Library of the cole de Medicine at Montpellier, one in the
Library at Lille, one in the Christiana Library of the Vatican, one in the
Laurentian Library in Florence, and one in the Monastery of Saint Mary
in Florence. Of twenty-nine manuscripts of the Historia belonging to
the thirteenth century six are in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, one
belongs to the Library of St. Genev'eve in the same city, one is in the
Vatican, one in Berne, one in Brussels, and one in Stockholm. Hardy
mentions only a few manuscripts that contain the Prophecies alone.
He shows two of the thirteenth century and one of the fourteenth cen
tury in the Bibliotheque Nationale. These manuscripts doubtless have
Book of Merlin made its way to Iceland very early, and
was translated into Icelandic by Gunnlaug Leifson, who died
in 1218 or I2I9. 16 This Icelandic translation brings up the
question of other translations of The Book of Merlin. The
various redactors of the Historia omitted the prophecies be
cause they could make nothing of them. Wace spoke for all
when he wrote after the account of the dragon : 17
" Done dist Merlins les profesies
Que vous aves sovent oies
Des rois, qui a venir estoient
Qui la terre tenir devoient.
Ne voil son livre translater,
Quant jo nel' sai entepreter;
Nule rien dire ne volroie
Qu' essi ne fu com jo diroie.' m
The prophecies are not found in the Arthurian Romances,
not even in the Romance of Merlin\, where one would most
expect them to occur. The Merlinusspa, as the Icelandic ver
sion is called, is a poem inserted in the Bretasogur, but it is
older than the context in which it occurs. 19 It consists of two
parts, the first containing the fourth chapter of Geoffrey's
second book, the second answering to Geoffrey's third chapter.
"The first four strophes of what ought to be Part II rein-
troduce Merlin, as if he was quite unknown to the reader;
and this perhaps led Hauk Erlendsson to consider it as
Part I." 20
Geoffrey's Prophecies of Merlin were translated into Bour-
not been in these libraries ever since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries,
but in all probability some of them reached the various countries shortly
after they are written.
19 Ward, loc. cit., i, 304.
17 Wace, Roman de Brut, 1. 7729 f. Ed. Le Roux de Lincy, 2 vols.,
18 The prophecies were turned into Anglo-French and inserted into
some mss. of Wace, as in a ms. belonging to Mr. D'Arcy Hutton.
(Societe des Anciens Textes Frangais, Bulletin, 1882.)
19 Eugen Mogk, Paul's Grundriss, 1909, 2, i, 2, p. 711; H. G. Leach, De
Libello Merlini, Modern Philology, vol. VIII, p. 607 f. Leach thinks that
Lincoln may have served as the point of exchange.
20 Ward, i, 305.
bon French in the fifteenth century by Jehan Wauquelin, or
Waurin, of Mons. Waurin made at the request of his nephew,
Waleran de Mons, a collection of the chronicles of England,
and began his work by translating Geoffrey's Historia. 2i He
says in the General Prolog that he determined about the year
1455 to undertake the work, and to bring it down to the
coronation of King Henry the Fifth. 22 The Collection of
Chronicles is divided into five volumes, of two or more books
each, and each book into several chapters. The whole of
Geoffrey's seventh book is contained in three chapters, begin
ning with the fifty-fifth, of the second book of the first volume.
After translating the Prolog and the Epistle, Waurin inter
jects a few remarks of his own. He says :
" What marvel then that I, feeble and dark through the obscuration of
the flesh, which binds and oppresses my faculties, and increases the dul-
ness of my poor and idle intellect, should put forward my excuses, most
legitimate, when apologies are offered by this high Latinist, whose thoughts
glow with harmonious colours and with golden words of Tullian splen
dour, his rhetorical excellence making my talent shrink as does the eye
before the solar ray, covering itself with its lids. By ambiguous ecstacy,
yea and the suspended construction of the sentences, and especially in
those prophecies where Merlin gives his meaning by poetic fiction and
under a metaphorical covering, which are unintelligible to my under
standing, and invisible through the opacity of my body, for they exceed
its capacity, and then by stronger reason it is very difficult to expound
them in appropriate French, as the abundant and ready eloquence neces
sary is not given me. But, nevertheless, my native Bourbon language,
though rude, shall well suffice, please God, to make known, as best I can,
the sense of the author, explaining it where it is obscure, more largely
than his words suffice to convey the meaning. And even as regards those
prophecies where the sense is obscured by a metaphorical and fallacious
21 Edited with a translation by William Hardy, R. S., 1864.
22 Hardy printed from a fifteenth century manuscript in the Imperial
Library at Paris, now in the Bibliotheque Nationale. According to a
statement made at the close of a manuscript in the British Museum
(Ward I, 251) the work was begun on July 25, 1445, at the request of
Monsieur de Croy. This seems to have contained only the translation of
the Historia and may therefore have been an earlier work. The continu
ation to the time of Henry the Fifth may have been begun in 1455 as the
French manuscript says. But the statement at the close of the English
manuscript may have been made by the scribe on his own authority.
Ward makes no mention of Hardy's edition of the whole work.
covering, I will explain them in easy and intelligible French, according
to the extent of the faculty of my small intellect, by clear and distinct
exposition ; wherefore I pray all those who may read this book, that if
they find in it anything badly said they will pardon it, and for what is
good they will give God the praise." 23
In dealing with the prophecies Waurin translates an episode,
and then expounds it. He does not interpret any episode
after the Conquest in the light of history. His explanations
are usually childish, ludicrous, or absurd. 24 He moralizes at
every opportunity. His rendering of his original in some
places indicates that he used a text different in minor details
from that printed by Giles. For instance, he translates the
beginning of the Lion-of- Justice episode, " The lion shall suc
ceed to the leopard of gladness, through whose roaring the
Gallic towers and the barons of the isles shall tremble." Later
he speaks of this Lion as the Lion of Justice. The Leopard
of Gladness is not mentioned in Giles's text. The latter also
reads ' dragons of the isles ' which Waurin may have deliber
ately changed in his translation in order to save the trouble of
interpreting it. He makes Sextus a foreign chief from Ire
land, who has the character of a Lynx. The successor of the
Lion of Justice he makes the old man of Periron. Similar
divergences occur throughout.
No other translations of The Book of Merlin have been
found in the course of this study, though some may exist. Col
lections of prophecies attributed to Merlin are rather frequent,
but one must see them before he can know what they contain.
For instance, one large collection, which will be discussed later,
was made up on the Continent and translated into several
languages, but it has nothing in common with The Book of
Merlin. The same is true of the Romance of Merlin. What
the fifteenth century German " Bearbeitung " of Merlin 25 con
tained does not appear from the brief description of it.
By the end of the twelfth century Merlin's fame as a prophet
had become universal in Western Europe and The Book of
Merlin was known either through quotations or by general
^Hardy, trans., vol. i, p. 200.
24 Cf. his explanation of the Damsel of the Damneian Forest.
25 Greith, Spicilegium Vaticanum, p. 86.
repute. France and Italy adopted him, and attributed to him
prophecies relating to local affairs. This was the second step
in the spread of the influence of the Galfridian prophecy which
had arisen in England, the domestication of the type in foreign
In France the evidence consists mainly of single sentences
quoted by chroniclers or by other writers. Mouskes 26 quotes
or alludes to two; one is to the effect that the Lord of Hal
berdiers would die at Martiaus, which was accomplished in the
death of Henry, the son of Henry the Second: the other says
that at Limoges should be forged the chain with which the
tyrant coming from England should be chained, a prophecy
which was supposedly accomplished in the death of Richard
the Second at Limoges. Johannes Longus in the Chronicle of
St. Bertin 27 quotes a prophecy of Merlin that the upright lion
should die on Monteveltris. This was applied to the death of
King Louis in 1226. Another French prophecy attributed to
Merlin in the thirteenth century occurs in Regits d'un Menes-
tral de Reims. 28 It declared that two Lions of France should
die at Montpensier.
During the thirteenth century a French version of the
prophecies of Merlin was produced. According to a statement
in the manuscript they were translated from the Latin by
Richard of Ireland. After Richard had begun his work,
Frederick the Second had occasion to test the truth of the
prophecies, and, finding them true, encouraged him to continue
his work. In the French manuscript they follow the Roman
de Merlin?* According to Ward's description 30 of a version in
an English manuscript^ the prophecies are scattered among
chivalrous romances. The origin of the Latin source for this
26 Philip Mouskes, ed. Reiffenberg, Brussells, 1836-38, 2 vols. ; vol. 2,
p. 272, 312.
27 Johannis Iperii, Chronicon St. Bertini, XLVI, part 21, in Martene and
Durand Thesaurus Novus, Tome III, Paris, 1717, c. 207.
28 Remits d'un Menestral de Reims. Nalatis de Waelles. Paris, 1876
(Soc. de 1'Hist. Fran.), p. 174.
29 Les Manuscripts Francois de la Bibliotheque du Roi. Ed. Paris, vol. I,
Paris, 1836, p. 129 f.
30 Ward I, 371 f.
translation seems unknown. It served as the basis of a larger
collection which appears in French and Italian, and which was
very frequently printed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
This collection for convenience will henceforth be called The
Continental Collection. Discussion of it, however, must be
postponed to another paragraph. Froissart may have referred
to it when he wrote that a prophecy relating to a coming
savior of France was to be found in the thirty-eighth chapter
of Merlin's prophecies. 31
One thing is clear. Merlin was well known as a prophet
in France during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Deschamps in a ballade, Contre FAngleterre, 32 written in
1385, names Merlin with Bede and the Sibyl as having
prophesied a French victory over the English. The prophe
cies of Merlin were said to have been consulted by Du Guesc-
lin before the battle of Auray. 33
If the local French material attributed to Merlin is some
what scanty, evidence of Merlin's influence in Italy is
abundant. Italians adopted the Welsh prophet as their own,
and placed him in their esteem among the prophets of estab
lished reputations. In a dispute that occurred in 1248 at the
Minorite convent at Hyeres between Hugh of Bariol and Peter
of Apulia, Hugh quoted Merlin's prophecies as of equal weight
with Isaiah's. 34 When Peter objected, saying that it was
wrong to quote Merlin, an unbeliever, Hugh exclaimed : " You
lie, and I can prove it. Does the Church reject the prophecies
of Balaam, or Elihu, or Caiaphas, or the Sibyl, or Merlin, or
Methodius? Good things must not be scorned, even though
they come from a bad teacher."
The exposition of Merlin's prophecies which Salimbene said
was made by Joachim of Fiore has been mentioned earlier in
this chapter. Prophecies ascribed to Merlin were common
31 Chroniqueurs et Trouveres Beiges, Brussels, 1869, 8, 418.
32 Deschamps, Oeuvres Completes. Ed. Marquis de Queux de St. Hilaire,
vol. i, Paris, 1878, p. 106.
^Pradiere, La Bretagne Poetique, Paris, 1872, p. 93.
34 T. L. Kington, History of Frederick the Second, vol. 2, London, 1862,
p. 477, quoting Salimbene. Referred to by Ward, loc. cit. i, 372.
enough in the thirteenth century. The Verba Merlini, which
were quoted by Hugh of Bariol, are at least as early as 1248.
They are short, and relate to Frederick the First, Henry the
Sixth, and Frederick the Second. The emperors are desig
nated by their initials according to the Sibyllic method.
Animal names occur, but they are more metaphors than vati-
cinal symbols. Frederick the First is described as 'in pills
agnus, in villis leo'; Frederick the Second as 'inter capras
agnus laniandus 3 \ a son of his is promised he shall be a
1 leo rugiens ' among his brothers. Thomas of Pavia 36
quotes another prophecy of Merlin concerning Henry the
Sixth, but it has not been found in any collection attributed
to Merlin. Salimbene quotes at length the Versus Merlini,
a poem sixty lines long and containing predictions on various
Italian cities. So far as can be determined from the ten lines
quoted by Holder-Egger, the prophecies contained in the Ver
sus were not Galfridian.
Genuinely Galfridian is the Profetia Merlini beginning post
galli fugam, which dates from the late thirteenth century. 38
The action begins with the flight of the Cock into France
(galli fugam in Galliam). A city known by the name of its
river grows proud, and is besieged; all Liguria trembles; the
Dragon is attacked ; Emilia is brought to her former weakness.
Then a Wicked Boar departs, slaying some of his captives,
and taking others with him. His Chick (pullus), born of a
concubine, is captured, and put in prison in the Nest of Phi
losophers. This seems to bring on a general war. The Cock
returns, and temporary peace is made. But war is renewed in
which the Cock, the Lion, the Asp, the Wolf, C, a Bull, a
Goat, a Fox, a Mare, and a Lamb, all seem to take part.
Similar to this is the Profezia Merlini inventa et rescripta a
quodam antiquo libra which is found in a fifteenth century
manuscript. According to it there should come from the dis-
35 Holder-Egger, Neues Archiv, 30; 379; ibid., 15; 175.
38 Pertz, Scriptores Rerum Germaniae, Thomas Tuscus, XXII, 515. Re
ferred to by Holder-Egger.
37 Holder-Egger, N. A., 30 ; 378 f.
38 Sanesi, supra, p. cv, printing from Cod. Laurenz., Pent. XVIII, sin.
89 Kampers, 151.
tant mountains a Lion with a forked tail, who had wedded an
Eagle. He should call to his assistance a swift Forest Leopard.
A Bear, a Wolf, several Dogs, and a Fox all join in the action,
which seems confined to Lombardy, centering around Milan
and Verona. A note interprets the Lion as Robert of Naples.
Three prophecies in Italian are found in manuscripts 40
written at Florence in 1442 according to a statement made at
the end of each. Two deal with the same material, one being
a longer and more complete version than the other. Both are
said to have been delivered by Merlin to Master Anthony, who
wrote them down. The third is said to have been dictated to
Master Basil. All three are in dialog form; the scribes put
questions, and the sage makes his prophecies in answer to them.
Galfridian symbols are used in all. In the longer of the
Anthony prophecies the explanation of each symbol follows it
in brackets, and a key to all is added at the end of the proph
ecy. Here the Cock represents the Pope, the Lion Florence,
the Prancing Horse Arezzo, the Panther (Pantera) Lucca, the
Wolf Sienna, the Bear Pistoia, the Wild Goose Orvieto, the
Panther (Lonza) Paris, the Viper Tuscany, the Leopard
Viterbo, the Unicorn Lamagna, the Tail of the Black Eagle the
nobles of Rome, and the Elephant Rome herself. In form
these prophecies resemble very much the Continental Collection,
and may perhaps occur in it. They contain references to the
Champion, who also appears in the Collection.
Before going further it is well to review here the Continental
prophecies of the twelfth century, in order that one may see
clearly how new the Galfridian form was to Western Europe.
The chief pieces of vaticinal literature then current were the
Book of Methodius, various versions of the Last-King-of-Rome
story, and the Prophecy of Sibyl Tiburtina, in which the details
did not remain constant. The general method of all these
prophecies was the Sibyllic initial-reference. If animal names
occurred, they were used as metaphors, and not as Galfridian
vatic symbols. The Sibyl's repute was widespread. Proph
ecies were freely attributed to her in the various countries.
In Germany the Sibyllic tradition lingered long, and found
40 Sanesi, cvi f.
expression as late as the fourteenth century in the Sibillen
Boich* 1 This is a poem of a thousand and forty lines, which
combines the stories of the Queen of Sheba and of the Holy
Rood. The first part deals with the history of the Rood Tree
from the time of its planting on Adam's grave until the
building of Solomon's Temple, at which time the Tree was
used as a bridge. The second part tells of the Sibyl's visit
to Solomon. Coming once to this bridge, she turned aside
and waded the stream, whereupon as a reward for her
consideration her web foot was changed to a human foot.
When asked by Solomon why she refused to cross the bridge,
she gave him the history of the Tree until the Crucifixion. The
third part contains Solomon's questions and her prophetic
answers, and gives a history of the world to the Judgment.
Some manuscripts contain here an interpolation, written in true
Sibyllic method of initial-reference, which narrates briefly the
history of Germany from the time of Emperor Adolf, 1298,
to Charles the Fourth, 1349. Vogt 42 thinks the poem written
before the time of Charles whose name he considers an interpo
lation in the prophecy. In an earlier version victory is promised
to Frederick of Austria. This must have been written before
the latter's defeat in 1322. In the Chronik des Stiftes S. Simon
und Judas 4 * of the thirteenth century reference is made to a
prophecy of a Sibyl that there should come a king who should
rule the Roman Empire like a fox, possess it like a lion, and
guard it like a dog. The old Prophecy of Sibyl Tiburtina dealt
to some extent with the German Emperors to Henry the Sixth,
and belongs to the twelfth century. Still earlier than this Otto
of Freising had quoted in his Chromcon* 4 the celebrated
acrostic of the Sibyl, and had added to his account of it the
statement that the Sibyl was said to have prophesied the
Local Galfridian material in Germany is scarce. What the
41 L. Schade, Geistliche Gedichte, Hanover, 1854, P ' 2 9 J f-
42 Vogt, Ueber Sibyllen Weissagungen, Beitr'dge zur Geschichte deutschen
Sprache und Literatur, vol. 4, Halle, 1877, p. 48 f.
43 L. Weiland in Monumenta Germanica Historica, Deutsche Chroniken
11, paragraph 1 3.
** In Scriptores Rerum Germaniae, Hanover, 1867, p. 65.
Bearbeitung, previously referred to, contains, the present writer
does not know. The prophecy said to have been sent to Ger
many by Cardinal John of Toledo contained Galfridian
symbols. The Lion of France represented Charles of Anjou,
the Eagle's Chick Conradin, and the Branch from the Root
Frederick of Antioch. Another prophecy, found in the Chronik
Ebensdorfers, 45 seems to be another version of the same
material. The Lion, the Eagle, the Eagle's Chick, a Leopard,
and the Branch from the Root appear in it. The final victory
is promised the Branch (here, however, Radix ex radice) who
seems to represent Frederick of Austria. Doubtless other
material exists. The piece which was described in the second
chapter of this study as A Prophecy of the German Emperors
is sometimes attributed to Saint Hildegard, and considered a
German prophecy. 46 Her death in 1178 gives an approximate
date for it, if it be considered hers.
In France, as was shown in the second chapter of this study,
prophecies were attributed to the Sibyl from an early date.
Fredegarius quoted one concerning Brunehild. Sedulius made
a collection of the Sibyl's prophecies. The Book of Methodius
was known through a Latin translation. An interpolation into
Adso's De Anti-Crist o brought Frenchmen into contact with
the C., or Constans, Prophecy that the last King should
bear the name Constans or a name beginning with C.
Kampers 47 says that this prophecy was applied to Charles Con-
stantine, the son of Louis the Blind, and shows that the Sibyl
Tiburtina named the descendants of Boso of Aries after Louis.
The Sibyl's repute was established. Deschamps names her
with Bede and Merlin in the ballade, Contre I'Angleterre, as a
prophet of indisputed authority. A prophecy on French affairs
entitled L'Epistre de Sibille, was written in the fourteenth
century. 48 It begins, however, in good Galfridian fashion, " la
lupart en assaillant la roiaume de France!' A prophecy on
Henry the Fourth was attributed to the Sibyl, but although it
45 Kampers, 128.
^Vogt, loc. cit., p. 93.
" Kampers, p. 45 f.
48 Ward, I, 222.
does not contain Galfridian symbols, it is not written according
to the genuine Sibyllic method of initial-reference.
The French do not seem to have been so deeply interested in
prophecies as the English and the Italians until rather late; at
least, the evidence that shows interest is somewhat scanty.
According to this evidence the writing of prophecies in the
Sibyllic method did not survive the twelfth century in France.
L'Epistre de Sibille is really a Galfridian prophecy. In fact,
the French seem to have adopted the Galfridian method exclu
sively when they wished to use symbols. The fragmentary
thirteenth century prophecies of the Lion who should die at
Montveltris, and of the two Lions who should die at Montpen-
sier have been referred to earlier in this chapter. They con
form to the Galfridian type. The prophecies of the cerf volant
and the dne pesant, quoted by Deschamps 49 are additional
examples. The Prophetic d'Orval, written in 1544 by Phillip
Olivarius, spoke of the Eagle, the White Flower, the Cock, and
the Lion. The Prophecy of St. Cezaire, found in the Mirabilis
Liber, treated among other things of a Black Eagle and a Lion
from a Far Country. The Prophecies of Merlin speak of a
Bird to be hatched in a tree, a Beast from the deserts of Baby
lon, and a Fish from the River Jordan. Nostradamus in his
Centuries used animal symbols very freely.
In Italy the Sibyllic tradition, which had always been very
strong, produced The Prophecy of Sibyl Tiburtina, which is
chiefly concerned with Italian affairs. It was re-written or
continued from time to time, one continuation extending to the
time of Godfrey of Viterbo in the late twelfth century. The
stories of the other Sibyls were never forgotten. When a fresh
impulse was given to vaticinal writing by the coming of Geof
frey's Merlin, new prophecies were written and attributed to
other Sibyls. Throughout the Middle Ages and well into the
Renaissance, the Sibyl, or Sibyls, was held in high repute, and
prophecies attributed to some Sibyl were printed. It has
already been shown that Hugh of Bariol referred to the Sibyl
as being received by the Church as a genuine prophet.
*Oeuvres Completes, I, 164; II, 57~58.
50 Published as a part of the Bibliotheque de Romans, Paris, 1775.
Among the new prophecies written after the advent of
Merlin, the Prophecy of Sibyl Erithrea?'*- holds an important
place. It, however, continued the Sibyllic tradition only in its
name ; in the treatment of its material it is genuinely Galfridian.
According to Salimbene it is the Expositio Sibille written in
1196 by Joachim of Fiore at the request of the Emperor Henry
the Sixth, and dedicated to him. This cannot be quite true,
for internal evidence shows that it must have been written in
the second half of the thirteenth century during the civil wars
attending the extinction of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Need
less to say, it is the work of the Minorites in Italy who foisted
it on the dead Joachim. He had dedicated to the Emperor
Henry an Exposition of the Apocalypse.
According to a caption at the beginning, the Prophecy of
Sibyl Erithrea was taken from the Vasilographos (the Imperial
Book), which Sibyl Erithrea of Babylon made at the request of
the Greeks during the Trojan War, and which Vedoxa trans
lated from Chaldaic into Greek. A certain Eugenius of Sicily
then translated it from the Greek into Latin. It begins, " You
ask me, Illustrious People of the Greeks, to commit to writing
the Greek fortunes and the Phrygian disasters, and what Fate
has in store for the noble progeny of Laomedon, the excellent
leader Dioneus, and the House of Teucer, and the young
woman in dispute." 52 The Sibyl grants the request, and pro
ceeds to tell the history of the world from the Fall of Troy to
the Judgment. Animal symbols are freely used. But a new
convention is adopted, perhaps at a suggestion from The Book
of Daniel. The number of years allotted a ruler is shown by
the number of feet attributed to the animal which stands as a
symbol for him.
After mentioning the heroes of the Trojan War, the proph
ecy treats briefly the career of Alexander the Great, calling
him the Goat, perhaps at a suggestion from The Book of Daniel.
Hannibal is then mentioned, and the rise of Rome told.
51 Holder-Egger, N. A., 15, p. 146 f.
63 Exquritis me, o illustrissima turba Danaum, quatinus Graios eventus
Frigiasque ruinas in scriptis referam, quidve proli Laumedontidi nobillis-
sime : quid Dioneo duci pollitissimo, quid Teucricis edibus iuvenceque liti-
gii predestinatum existat.
Pompey and Caesar are called Lions, Augustus the Peaceful
Bull. The next event mentioned is the establishment of the
Church by Constantine. It is told thus : " But the days shall
come in which the virtue of cleansing will be shown in the
waters, and a royal Lion (Constantine) shall be changed into
a Lamb who will enlighten the world and overthrow king
doms. A Cock, sitting on a few eggs (Pope Sylvester), shall
be clothed in the spoil of the Lion, and black shall be changed
into red." The transfer of the Empire to Constantinople is
then mentioned, and the history of the Comnenian dynasty
told. The narrative is occasionally broken by references to
Charlemagne, Frederick the First, and Constantia of Sicily,
the wife of Henry the Sixth. Attention is then given to
Frederick the Second, and the narrative continues with the
history of Italy under him and his descendants. The commen
tary breaks off with Conrad the Fourth, erroneously called
Conrad the Second.
This version is rather long. A shorter one 53 was made by
the followers of Joachim, called Joachites by Holder-Egger,
perhaps by Hugh of Die who Salimbene says was interested in
these prophecies. After the introduction, it begins with the
establishment of Christianity, and follows the longer version
with some omission and much condensation. The phrasing is
often very different from that of the longer Prophecy.
Salimbene quotes a Prophecy of the Sibyl Samia. 5 * This is
very short and indefinite in its statements. "A young Lion
shall arise and seek the mountain peaks. He shall be joined by
a Fox, and be clad in the skin of a Leopard." It ends, " Honor
shall be turned into shame, and the joy of many into sorrow."
The Galfridian method is used to some extent in the Proph^-
ecy of Michael Scotus. 55 This is a Latin poem of eighty-seven
lines, which attempts to tell the history of various cities in
Northern Italy. Serpents, vipers, dragons, the Cub of Verona,
and a Griffin take part in the action. Most of the prophecy,
however, is direct. The symbols occur only in passages of one
or two lines.
63 N cues Archiv, 30, 523.
**Neues Archiv, 15, 177.
66 Neues Archiv, 30, 358 f.
Other prophecies dealing with Italian affairs belong to the
Galfridian type. One 56 relates to a Northern Eagle who should
come into Liguria, and build there his nest. At the same time
there should be two Husbands, one the Lawful, the other the
Adulterous. At the Eagle's coming the Lawful Husband
should flee, and not be found. Then a Gallic Lion should rise
against the Eagle, and strike his head, whence a great war
should arise. The Lawful Husband should return, and place
the Lion in his kingdom, thus restoring peace.
Another prophecy 57 tells of a Griffin born in France, who
should come into the East dragging a long tail. The Emperor
should find a Viper among the Caverns. The Leopard should
arise with the Eagle of the North, and a general war should
follow, in which the Leopard should be the victor. The spirit
of this prophecy seems to be Anti-Papal, for the Church is
called ' pars diabolica quae Ecclesia vocdbltur!
It is now time to take up the question of the Continental
Collection of Merlin's Prophecies. This Collection had ap
peared first in the thirteenth century in French by Richard of
Ireland, who was said to have translated it from the Latin
at the request of Frederick the Second. According to a state
ment in the French manuscript it was first in Latin, and was
then translated into French by Richard of Ireland. Sanesi, 58
however, insists that these prophecies are not to be considered
French material at all, saying that they are Italian in author
ship, place of composition, and contents. All this is quite true,
for they were produced at Frederick the Second's court, by his
secretary. According to a fifteenth century manuscript in
Italian, 59 Richard translated the Prophecies while in Catania,
and sent a French version to the King of France, a Saracen, or
Arabic, version to the Sultan of Babylon, and the Latin version
to the Pope. It is impossible to determine anything about the
original. The Collection seems to have existed only in the
French form until 1379 when it was translated from the
French, according to a statement in the Italian version, into
69 J. Wolf, Lectionum, I, 602.
57 J. Wolf, Lectionum, I, 602.
58 Sanesi, Iviii.
59 Sanesi, xli.
Italian from a book belonging to Piero di Giorgio Delfino. 60
The earliest printed edition was the Italian version, published
at Venice in 1840. The French version was published twice
in 1498 at Paris. A Spanish version was published at Burgos
in the same year. 61
The French collection published in I526 62 is a medley of
material of all sorts. The prophecies contained in it resemble
only slightly and in very few instances those found in Geof
frey's Historia. The compiler seems to have worked from
some original, for constant references are made to it, such as
"le compte dit." The prophecies quoted at various places in
the prose Romance of Merlin seem to belong to this cycle.
The Collection begins with a piece of narrative in which it is
shown that Merlin is in Galicia in the room of Master Tholo-
mer, and that he is reflecting. Tholomer begins to ask ques
tions. " Of what are you thinking so long? " he asks. Merlin
replies, " I am thinking of the countries that shall be in the
world 1277 after the birth of Christ." 64 He then speaks of the
corruptness of the world, and prophesies the approach of Anti-
Christ, who is always called the Dragon, or the Dragon of
Babylon. This prophecy for 1277 is immediately followed by
one for 1489. No respect is had for chronology. Prophecies
of all kinds and of all countries are loosely jumbled together,
and crammed into the book. The prophetic strain is frequently
interrupted by long pieces of narrative, of which some relate
to the careers of Merlin, Tholomer, and Antony, and others
are really romances of chivalry, something like the episodes in
Malory's Mort D' Arthur.
The material embodied in this Collection was not absolutely
unknown during the centuries before it was printed. Several
prophecies written in the characteristic dialog form but with
more animal symbols have been described in this chapter. It
has just been said that the prophecies in the prose Romance of
60 Sanesi, L f .
61 Brunet, Manuel de Libraire, Paris, 1862, III, 1657 f.
62 No earlier edition could be consulted for this study.
63 E. E. T. S., I, 305, 316, 4355 H, 3i5.
64 The Birth of Christ is always referred to thus; la chose qui jadis
nasquit aux parties de Jerusalem.
Merlin belong to this cycle. This Collection was known in
England in the early fourteenth century. Robert of Brunne
in his Story of England, after telling of the fight between the
two dragons, omits the prophecies, saying : 65
" J>enne seyde Merlyn many thynges,
What yn bis lond schuld tide of kynges,
bat are in Blase bokes write,
bey at hauyt, mowe hit wyte
And in Tolomer & sire Amytayn ;
byse hadde Merlynes bokes playn,
ffor byse bre write his prophecyes,
And were his maistres in ser partyes."
He says further that he has not wit to undo the knots that
Merlin knit, for he spoke in such a way that till that thing
happened, nobody knew it. Blase, perhaps, corresponds to
Basilius, who wrote down one of the 1442 prophecies. The
editor of Robert queries Auntayn for Amytayn, and is probably
The practice of writing prophecies by means of pictures was
not unknown on the Continent. Paracelsus published a series
of thirty-two with accompanying explanations, which were
originally written in German, but which were translated into
Latin with a marginal gloss by David Sebram of Neuburg. 66
Animal figures occur in some of the pictures. Heraldic
symbols also are used, as the Lily for France. A prophetic
picture seems to have engaged the interest of different wise
men. Carion and Capistranus both made explanations, which,
however, proved untrue. 67
There is noticeable throughout the period extending from
the second quarter of the twelfth to the end of the seventeenth
century an interchange of prophetic material. European
prophecies were known in England, but they seem not to have
been turned to any local use. Among these may be mentioned
the Prophecy of Sibyl Samia, the Flyting Verses between
Frederick the Second and the Pope, the Methodius prophecies,
85 F. J. Furnival in Rolls Series, London, 1887, I, 288 f.
68 Wolf, loc. cit., II, 484-501.
67 Wolf, loc. cit., I, 824, 825.
and the vaticinal lines beginning, Gallorum levitas. The
prophecy of the Unicorn from the West, if not an English
production, may also be added to the list. It is a rare instance
of a foreign prophecy dealing with English affairs.
Quotations from Geoffrey's collection in European writings
have already been discussed in this chapter. Froissart knew
something of The Six Kings, for he tells an instance of a
Frenchman's quoting the episode that the Boar of Commerce
should whet his tusks against the gates of Paris as proof that
Edward the Third should capture Paris. 68 He also quotes the
Triangle Prophecy which was current in England during the
reign of Richard the Second. 69 But Deschamps offers more
interesting examples. In his ballade, Contre I'Angleterre he
quotes a prophecy to the effect:
" L'aigle venrra des marches d'Aquilon;
O ses poucins, seoir en Northumbrie:
D'un autre les passera le lion
O ses cheaulx, plains de forsenerie
Deux lieux prandra qui aront seigneurie
Et destruiront le nort creusement ;
Et le pais, qui anciennement
Fut renommes d'aventures aussi
Se doit tourner a leur destruisement
Tant qu'on dira; Angleterre fut cy."
These lines seem echoes of The Six Kings and of The Cock
in the North. In another ballade 71 he speaks of the Ass with
the Leaden Foot, certainly a reminiscence of the Six Kings.
Rupescissa 72 had spoken of a great English King who should
win the Holy Sepulchre, an episode in the career of Edward
the Third, according to The Six Kings.
On the Continent more frequently than in England vaticinal
works were published under the names of contemporary men,
who set themselves up as prophets either because of some
88 Froissart, 17, 216.
68 Froissart, 16, 351.
70 Oeuvres Completes, i, 106.
71 Oeuvres Completes, i, 164; II, 57-58; VII, 244.
"Brown, Fasciculus Rerum, London, 1609. 2 vols. vol. 2, appendix,
special divinatory powers possessed by themselves, or because
of their ability to interpret prophecies already in existence.
False attribution, as in the case of Joachim of Fiore, must, how
ever, be guarded against. Without any discussion as to the
genuineness of the attribution, the names of men who were
known on the Continent as prophets by reason of vaticinations
produced under their names may be mentioned here. 73 In
Italy among others were Telesphorus da Cosenza, Michael da
Leone, Anselm da Marsica, Dolcino, and Ardenta da Parma,
if one does not include among the Italians Michael Scotus, the
astrologer of Richard the Second. In France may be named
Richard Roussat, Pierre Turrel, Jean Muller, Michel Pirus,
John de Rupescissa, Phillippe Olivarius, and Nostradamus,
some of whom were professional astrologers. In Germany
may be mentioned Gamaleon, Alfresant, Lichtenberger, Carion,
Capistranus, Grebner, Paracelsus, Wolfgang Aytinger, Veit
Arnpeck, Grunpeck, and Paul of Middleburg. Of all these
Grebner is the only one concerned to any degree with the his
tory of the prophecy in England. The pictures of Paracelsus
have been discussed. Nostradamus has been mentioned as
using Galfridian symbols. With the exception of these men
and Carion, Capistranus, and Rupescissa the present writer has
no first-hand information, and does not know what their books
Opposition to these secular prophecies was aroused on the
Continent as well as in England. Belief in them was prevalent
over Europe in the fourteenth century. 74 Effective opposition
seems not to have been aroused until in the sixteenth century.
The attacks came from various quarters. The Prophecies of
Merlin were put on the list of proscribed books in the Index
librorum prohibitorum according to a rule passed by the
Council of Trent that books relating to fortune-telling, sooth
saying, divination, augury, astrology, magic, or prophecy
should be condemned. 75 Other prophecies were put on the
same list. In France, "political prophecies through the
73 See Kampers, von Dollinger, and Chevalier passim.
74 F. Tocco II Savonarola e la Profezla, in Vita Italiana nel Rinasci-
mento, Milan, 1899, 236268, passim.
75 Index Librorum Prohibitorum, Venice, 1564, f. 7 b., 17 a.
medium of almanacs grew so alarming, and possibly personal
in their character, that Henry the Third of France forbade
such to be inserted therein, which prohibition was repeated by
Louis the Thirteenth as late as 1628. At a much earlier date
every almanac had to be stamped with the approval of the
Bishop of the Divorce before publication." 76
Like Bacon in England, who treated of Prophecies in one
of his Essays, Montaigne in France devoted an Essay to Prog
nostications. 77 His attitude is one of contempt. He calls to
mind the madness of Francis Marquis of Saluzzo, who was
misled by a belief in what Montaigne called ' fond prognos
tications,' which then throughout Europe were given out to the
advantage of the Emperor Charles the fifth. Montaigne says
further : 78 " I see some that studie, plod and glosse their Alma-
nackes, and in all accidents alleage their authoritie. ... I
think not the better of them, though what they say proove
sometimes true." In characterizing the prophetic style he says,
"But above all, their dark, ambiguous, fantasticall, and
propheticall gibrish, mends the matter much, to which their
authors never give a plain sense, that posterity may apply what
meaning and construction it shall please unto it."
The different nations of Europe had different prophecies to
fit individual needs. In addition to these national prophecies
were others not touched upon in this study. They were chiefly
religious in content, and concerned themselves with the affairs
of the Church, such as the prophecies of Rupescissa. Two
themes, however, recur time and again in the different countries,
sometimes combined into one. They are The Returning Hero
who should be a political savior, and The Last King of Rome.
The expectation of a political savior misled the Jews at the
time of Christ. The Nero-saga, which the Christians identified
with the Anti-Christ theme, served the Romans for a return
ing hero. In the Byzantine Empire the theme was combined
with the Last-King-of-Rome to make the L.-prophecy, mis-
76 Samuel Briggs, The Origin and Development of the Almanack, in
Western Reserve and Northern Ohio Historical Society Tracts, 1887, no.
69, PP. 435-477-
77 Montaigne's Essays, trans, by John Florio. London, 1901, i, 55.
Ibid., i, 57.
called the Constans-prophecy, from Methodius down to the.
fifteenth century. On British soil it concerned itself with
Arthur and Richard the Second. In Germany it became the
Kaiser-saga centering around Barbarossa. In Portugal as late
as the seventeenth century it was associated with the memory
of King Sebastian, and was used to encourage the Portugese
to hope for freedom and separation from Spain. 79 A similar
prophecy was said to be current in Servia at the time of the
recent revolution which changed dynasties, and put King Peter
on the throne.
Much has been said from time to time of the Last-King-of-
Rome theme, the origin of which was discussed in the second
chapter. It existed in both the Eastern and Western Empires.
The first modification of it was made in France, where the
belief was current in the ninth century that the Last King
should be a Frenchman. In England a further modification
made him an Englishman. The English version seems to have
been accepted for a time, at least by some few people, on the
Continent, if the prophecy of Rupescissais to be considered any
indication. The French version was revived in the fourteenth
century. A further modification of it promised that the Last
King should be named P., 80 who was identified by Lichten-
berger as Philip of Austria, the son of Maximilian by Mary
of Burgundy, a French Princess. 81
79 J. von Dollinger, Der Weissagungsglaube und das Prophetenthum in
der Christlichen Zeit, Historiches Taschenbuch, series 5 vol. i, Leipzig,
1871, 259 f., p. 280.
"Veit Arnpeck quoted by Kampers, 165; Wolfgang Aytinger, Kampers,
81 Lichtenberger according to Kampers, 182.
THE SIX KINGS TO FOLLOW KING JOHN
It was shown in the third chapter of the present study that
The Six Kings is derived originally from certain phrases in
The Book of Merlin. Besides these phrases there are four
other versions of the same material. The oldest seems to be a
Latin version found in ms. Harleian 6148. The second in
time is an Anglo-French version in ms. Harleian 746. The
other two are English versions, of which one is in prose and
the other in verse. The prose form is found in The Brut.
The verse form has already been discussed in the third
THE LATIN VERSION
Vaticinium cuiusdam spiritus tempore regis Johannis.
Harleian 6148. A manuscript of the early seventeenth cen
tury containing prophecies written down by Sir Richard St.
George, Clarenceux and headed " De quibusden vaticiniis ex
vetusto libro manuscripto." (Ward, loc. cit., i, 211.) This
version would seem to have been made before Edward the
First's conquest of Scotland, at least before the accession of
Edward the Second.
(Orietur draco de asino qui in bracchio suo potentissimo
suos & mulos et raptores superabit rex fidellisimus erit pius
deo et hominibus placens terram superbie conculcabit et re-
cuperabit) 1 . Extincto 2 herede regnans glorians in malicia
perplexus inquietudine minuetur et dies eius (anticipabitur)
anticipabunt veneno, exiit agnus a Wintonia lanam habens
albam et labia veracia et scriptum corde suo sanctitas, agnus
ille construct deo domum quandam aspectus pulcherrimi sed
non perficiet suo tempore versus finem regni eius, et cum
1 These lines have been erased in the ms. but are still legible.
2 In the margin, Rex H 3tius Agnus.
obierit erit semen eius in terra extranea et sic demorabitur
terra sine pastore pro tempore sed tempus erit satis breve.
Post 3 tempus agni succedet ei draco misericordie mixti fero-
citati barbam habens capream dantem umbram universali terre
anglie, qui incolas custodiens a frigore et calore unum pedem
suum ponet in Wik et alterum in London amplectur sibi tres
habitationes et os suum appariet versus Walliam et faciet earn
tremere cum gente terre illius ob timorem eius alas suas ex-
tendet in plures patrias hanelitus eius erit tarn dulcis quod
plures veniet aliegenas qui alias ei guerram suscitarent et fer-
rent multa damna, tempore suo current rivi sanguinis et con
struct muros quod gravabit semen eius.
Post 4 mortem draconis succedet capra argentea habens cornua
et barbam ut austurcium et ex naribus eius exibit nebula orig-
nans dolorem et grave dampnum famis et . . . 5 mortalitatem
et amissionem partis terre illius, initio regni illius erit luxuria
sordescens et putrescens vigens in duabus nobilibus statubus et
mediocribus pari forma tempore suo peribit magna pars populi
terra sua in dolore et erumpnia et quod aliegene prestantiores
erunt super eum, tempore suo fluvius oste clarescet et parebit
quod ardeat, bellum quoddam erit in campo paratum ut scutum
super Bracchium maris et post bellum sese gentes amitterent
grosso modo velut pisces maris, et in bello illo morientur quam
plures albores capitum propter quod nuncupatur album bellum
quamdiu perseverat capra in tribulationibus et inquietudine erit
vita illius et in arumpnia transitus eius, et post dies demora
bitur terra nimis repleta aliegenis et in magna tribulatione erit
terra post mortem eius. Cum autem desierit esse capra suc
cedet Aper 6 caput gestans aureum, cor leoninum, affectum
pietatis vultus eius erit requies fidelibus, pectus eius erit ex-
tinctio scitis qui scitum pacientur loquela eius habebit laudem
difelitatis gestus eius humilis ut agnella, inicio regni sui satis
tedii pacietur ad justificandos infideles et malefactores terrae
suae. Aper ille per medium ferocitatis cordis sui compellet
8 In the margin, Rex Ed primus Draco.
* In the margin, rex Ed 2ds Capra.
6 1 cannot decipher this word.
In the margin, Rex Ed stius Aper.
lupum devenire agnum et vocabitur per universam orbem Aper
caritatis ferocitatis et nobilitatis in Justicia erit humilis ut
Apro illi succedet asinus 7 habens pedes plumbeos caput
asseret cor aneum pellem quasi ferream dura bestia erit iste et
in tempore suo erit terra valde pacifica inicio regni sui edifi-
cabit fideles erit clamor eius audietur per univeram orbem.
Asinus pro fidelitate sua amittet magnum partem terrae suae
per quendam lupum terribilem qui regnabit et asinus dabit
dominium terrae suae cuidam aquile regnans vero bene se guber-
nabit usque as tempus quo superbia ipsius superabit. Heu.
Heu. quod obibit per gladium fratris sui.
Post asinum veniet talpa 8 ore dei maledicta superba misera
et turpida vindicta cadet super earn pro peccatis antefactis,
elata et maliciosa erit, terra revertetur ad asinum et aprum et
ipse Gubernabit totam terram in pace dum vixerit et remanebit
terra repleta omnibus bonis.
Aper 9 ille exibit a Win et exibit exacuens dentes suos per iiij
terras et audacter perficiet agenda sua circumcirca Jherusalem.
hispania tremet et titillabit a timore eius, in Aragonia et in
Francia ponet omnium 10 suum et magna cauda sua requiescat
in Anglia ubi natus erat. Aper ille dentes suos acuet supra
muros parisiae, Albania titillabit ob timorem, Aper ille diu
durabit ad duas villas anglie faciet aper ille rivulos sanguinis
et cerebri discurrere et prata virida in rubea transmutabit, aper
ille recuperabit quicquid antecessores sui perdiderunt per uni-
versas terras et gestabit tres coronas antequam obierit, ipse
quoque reducet quandam terram in magnam subjectionem sed
ispa revelabitur non tamen in tempore suo. Aper satis amplius
conquestabit quam aliqui antecessores suores antequam fecer-
unt. Omnes in hoc mundo se sibi melenabunt et terras suas
conservabit in pace bona dum, in terra aliena morietur, et ob
nobilitatem eius inter tres reges sepulietur.
7 In the margin, rex Ri 2d Asinus.
8 In the margin, rex H qtus talpa.
9 In the margin, Ed jtius. This part was evidently written later than the
preceding and added to it. The material contained in it is worked into the
context of the later versions.
10 1 can make nothing else of the manuscript here. Omnium is evidently
not the right word in this place.
MERLIN'S PROPHECY OF THE Six KINGS
Harleian 746. A ms. of the thirteenth century. Written on
the first fly leaves of a collection of treatises in Latin and
French, chiefly legal, the first of which is the Tractatus de
Legibus of Ranulph Glanvis, written in the thirteenth century.
The volume appears to have belonged to Hugh Obthorp, of
Baston, co. Line., in the fourteenth century, and subsequently
to John Warner, chaplain of Sutton, co. Lincoln. (Ward, he.
cit., i, 309.)
I comencent asqunes des prophecies et des mervailes que
Merlin dit en son temps d'engleterre Et des rois ke unt este
puis le temps que le roi Henri d'arain nasqui a Wincestre Et
des rois que serrount bones et males moles et dures
Un aignel vendra hors Wincestre qu'avera blaunche launge
et levers veritables et avera escrit en son quoer saint Cel aignel
ferra une mesone de dieu que serra de bele veue mes ele ne
serra parfete en son temps En la fin de son regne vendra un
lou d'estrange terre et habitera en son regne si lui ferra mout
grant damage et levera grant guerre mes au fin serra 1' aignel
meistre et veincra le lou par 1'eide d'un rouge gopil que vendra
hors de northest et le lou enveiez Et apres eel temps ne vivera
gers Taignel Et a eel houre qu'il morra serra son semail en
estrange terre si demorra la terre saunz pasturel jusques a un
temps mes le temps serra court Apres son temps vendra un
dragon de merci modlee et de fierte et avera barbe com chevre
que dorra umbre a Engleterre si le gardera de f roit et de chaut
si mettera un de ses pies en Wik et 1'autre en Lond Si em-
bracera trois habitatouns et overa sa bouche de vers gales et
la fera mout fremer de pour cue la hidour de so bouche Ces
orailes se tendreunt en plusours pais. Sa aleine serra si douze
que venkera meint d'estrange terre que li leverount guerre et
lui ferrount grant damage En son temps corrount de sauncs
et il ferra sours que nuera son s. 11 . . . Apres eel temps vendra
un poeple hors de Northwest que serrount amenes par un
mauvus leverer que morrount a grant dolour souz ceste de mer
11 A wrinkle in the page here obscures the word in the photographs from
which I transcribe.
saunz nombre En son temps sera le solail rouge com saunz a
veue de tut le monde si signefiera la grant mortalite du sauncs
que serra espandu de Cristiens par cop d'espeie. Ceux gentz
demorrount orphanins jusques a un temps et en plousours
autres ennuez. Celi dragon norira un gopil que li menera grant
guerre. En la fin de sa vie ne serra pas finie en son temps mes
tous ses enemis veincra si serra tenus de nobles so 12 . . . d'autre
terre si demorra . . . pasturel si ploraunt des oiz por sa mort
alias serra . . . com d'une gentz orphanins que remeindrount
en terre de gaust Apres sa mort vendra un chevre que avera
corns d'argent et barbe com hostour et istera de ses narils une
broume que signefiera does et grant damage famine et mortalite
des gentz et perte de terre En le comencement de son regne
lecherie serra orde et puneise en son temps des grantz Dames
et des mennes grantment Icelui chevre vendra hors de Car et
irra en paenie si quera flour de vie En son temps morrount a
doel et a grant dolour un poeple de sa terre par quei ceux
d'estrange terres serrount en bandes sur lui En son temps
serrount fait forteresses des armes la fosse dou ler peres chomu
si serrount pleines la ou chasteux soleint estre En son temps
serra ouse esclari et parira quele arde E un bataille serra en
chaunp taille com estu sur bras de mer Et apres eel bataille
si perderount les gentz en gros com poissonns E a eel bataille
morrount mout des blanches testes si serra apelle la blaunche
bataille Un ours ferra a eel chevre mout de mal que serra de
son saunc et le chevra perdera mout de sa terre taunque a un
temps que hunte li veincra si vestira d'un pel d'un Icon et
regainera ce qu'il avera avaunt perdu et plus
Et un poeple grant vendra de Northwest que lui ferrount
entrelier et lui serrount cheremuz et doutez et lui vengerount
12 The right hand corner of the manuscript is mutilated so that the end of
the first 3 lines on each page is lacking. In the Brut this passage reads :
" This dragoun shal bene holden in his tyme the beste body of al be worlde ;
et he shal dye bisides be Marche of a straunge lande; and be lande shall
duelle f aderlesse wibouten a gode gouernoure ; and me shal wepe for his deb
fram be He of Shepe vnto be haven of Marcill ; wherfore, ' alias ' shal bene
be commune songe of the faderles folc, bat shal ouerleuen in his land
destroiede." (The Brut, p. 73.)
de ses enemis et il vivera tout son temps en enui et en travaille
et en paenie morra
Et apres sa mort demorra la terre mout repleine des aliens
si avera la terre grant trebulation apres sa mort E en le temps
de eel chevre avaunt dit surdra un Egle de Cornwaile et avera
pennes d'or et finira en Gavaru Apres eel chevre vendra un
sengler que avera la teste sen et quoer de Icon regard de pite
son visage serra repos as malades sa poitrine estaunchemente
de soif a ceux que soif averount sa parole loaunge de leaute
son port humble com aignel. En son temps en comencement
de son regne avera grant onnui a justicier les de leaux mefe-
saunz Celui sengler parmi le fier quoer qu'il avera ferra le lou
devenir aignel si serra apelle par tote le monde sengler de saunte
et de fierte et de noblesse En dreiture humble com aignel Cel
sengler vendra hors de Winde et irra en anguissanz ces dentz
par quater terre et ferra hardiment ces qu'il avra a faire jusques
a Burgh de Jherusalem Espanie tremblera de poure de lui
Aragoun estrevera En France mettera 13 . . . posera en Engle-
terre ou il f uist nee 1 * ... en anguisera ces dentz sur les portes
de Paris. Alemanie fremera de pour de lui Celui sengler
durera meint temps a deux villes en Engleterre Celui sengler
ferra russeaux de sant Et cervel et verte pres rouge Cel
sengler regainera quanquez ces auncestres unt avaunt perdu
En totes terres si portera trois corounes avaunt qu'il moerge
so mettera une terre en grant subjection me ele relevera noun
pas en sa vie Cel sengler conquerra plus que unques nul de
son saunc en iceste munde Tous lui enclineront et les terres
tendra en bon poes en sa vie Si murra en estranges si serra
por sa noblesse enterre entre les trois rois
Apres eel sengler vendra un asne et avera pies de plum et
teste d'asser quoer de arren et pelecon fere durre beste serra
En son temps serra la terre mout en pees Et en le comence
ment de son regne si enedifiera Oue serra sa crie par tout le
13 The Six Kings poem must guide us here. The passage reads,
" In France sail he sett his heuid biforn.
His tail sal rest in Yngland whare he was born." (1. 170)
The Brut reads wing for head and omits the last clause.
"Neither The Brut nor the poem gives assistance here.
munde Cel asne perdera par sa lechite un grant partie de sa terre
par un lou hidous mes il regnera si dorra a un Egle seignurire
de ces terres Cel egle se governera bien taunquez a un temps
que orguile lui surmuntera alias quel damage car il murra par
le espeie son frere la terre rercherre a Tasne et celui governa la
terre repleine de touz biens
Pres eel assne vendra un talpe maudit serra de la bouche
dieuz orguilous cheteif et coward serra pel avera come chevre
vemaunte cherra sur lui par pecches avaunt fetes horrible et
malveis serra En le comencement de son regne avera
mult . . . 15 leaute vers lui de touz biens et serra en grant
loaunge jusques a un temps que orguil li sur muntera et' vil
pecche . . . 16 surdra un dragun que serra mut. Perillous 17
et mut horrible et movera grant guerre de vers la talpe Cele
guerre serra funde sur un piere Cel dragoun aqueilera en sa
compaigne un lou vendra hors del West et movera guerre de
vers le talpe de sa part si lierount le dragoun et le lou ensemble
oue un leon que vendra hors d'irlaund que se compaignera a
eux Lors tremblera Engleterre com foil de sapine E en eel
temps avera le talpe mout grant pour si quoilera son poeple si
serra descomfit a grant dolour En son temps trebocherount les
chasteux sur Thames Esi para que sauerne secche por les
corps que de dens giserount Les quatre chefs . . . 18 corrount
de saunc mountaingnes leverount . . . 19 s'enfuera por pour
Le dragoun le cha . . . - 20 et le leon le terre demorra saunz
15 The poem reads,
" In J>e land sal be at his biginning,
Plente of none and all o]>er thing."
The Brut reads, " In >e ferst ere of his regne he shal haue of al gode grete
plente in his lande, and toward him also.
16 The poem and The Brut read Then in this place.
17 The poem reads, " ful fell et ful scharp " ; The Brut, " ful fers."
18 The Brut reads, " ]?e iiij chief nodes of Engeland."
"The poem reads, in this place,
" J?e grete hilles for drede clouen sail be,
And J>e moldwerp for ferd sail oway fle."
The Brut omits the passage entirely.
20 The Brut, " and J?e dragoun, J?e lyoun and J?e wolf, him shaldryuen
Pasturel . . . 21 n'avera fors que la neef ou il estoinz
et . . . 22 retret de la mer et il dorra les deux parties de sa
terre et la tierte . . . 23 partie en pees Si vivera en grant
dolour . . . 24 Enson temps devendra le chaunt lain froit
Si morra . . . 25 mort en son chemin de vers pecche quar il
serra en fl . . . 26 son semail devendra por touz jours en
estranges terres . . . <2T serra la terre d'engleterre departie en
trois entre le Dragoun et le lou et le leon si serra tost en apres
cele temps terre de conqueste. E si finerount les heirs d'engle
terre hors de heritage.
Besides these four versions of The Six Kings material,
another very interesting form of it is found in the poem
entitled John the Hermit in Ms. Hatton 56, f . 43 a-44 b. The
author of this poem has taken material from every episode in
the complete version and written a poem centering around
only one figure, the Ass. I do not print this poem because
it is long and would add little in this place to the history of
The Six Kings, but I hope to publish it at some future date
and to use it as the basis of a more complete study of the
21 The Brut, " and J>e Moldewerpe shal haue no maner power, saf onely a
22 The Brut, " and after ]?at, he shal come to lande when J>e see is
23 The poem, " }>e twa partes sail he gif oway of J?at land."
24 The poem, " In were et wandreth."
25 The Brut, " for he shal bene drenchede in a flode of J?e see."
26 The Brut, " for euermore."
SAINT THOMAS OF CANTERBURY
Ms. Hatton 56, f. 45-46 b. Bodley Library
Thomas rides from rome J?e man J>at right kennes
he fares forth by a faire towne Pise it is hotyn
There fyndes he masons upon a toure makand
A belfry of alabastre }>ere belles shul hengyn
Thomas to Je work went ware was sone
Of a lovely Image of our lady J?at he most loved
Sho was tired in a tabernacle & no man of hyr toke hede
Than Thomas called the maistre mason Jat ]?e work makid
Sey sir by mi fay whi hast bou so lowe set
This semely lady with hir son prince of al other
have here xx marc & make many for to sit
closid in a caruell riche. feire for to se
And whan Thomas was boune to pas to J?e Image he se.
Byleve wele my lady with bi son so fre
And be my frend lady where so I go
The Image looated & al the toure after bowed
& So it hangyth yit on held ; I say be for sothe
Thomas busked til a burgh basile is hotyn
A siker citie for soth in Almayn it stands
This kene clerk of Canterbery faris til a kirke
byddes graithe hym an auter & dresses hym to synge
As he was busked & boun his boke ban hym lakked
and seid he forgate it at rome with J>e pope right
and my weddid brother wele worthe hym ever
As he had made his mone mary him herd sone
and lete fal on be auter a ferly feire boke
with lomyned lies laughan upon hym
like kyndly clerk myght rede it hym selve
Thomas takys be boke & mary with hert thankes.
(Here the printed version begins.)
Of bat jewel bat was hym taken for bat ilk lady.
This poem continues for seventy-two lines, but I do not
consider its differences from the printed version important
enough to justify publishing the remaining lines.
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