The Smugglers' City
Department of History, University of Bristol


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The Childe of Bristow, c.1350-1500

Source: Anon. author
Transcribed: Clarence Hoper (ed.), 'The Childe of Bristow, a poem by John Lydgate', Camden Old Series, Volume LXXIII Miscellany, Vol. IV (1859), pp. 3-28.
Manuscript: 'Poems by Chaucer, Dan Lydgate and others', Harlian MSS. British Library.

The following transcription is based on Hoper's, although some changes have been made to the way in which abreviations and suspensions are represented (e.g. 'ye' is given here as 'the').

Hoper, following Riston, Bibliographica Poetica, p. 71, ascribed the poem to John Lydgate. This has since been shown to be incorrect: A.E. Hartung (ed.), A Manual to the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500, Vol. IX (New Haven, 1993), pp. 3260-61. An alternative version of the poem goes by the name of 'The merchant and his son'.

For the purpose of this course, perhaps the most interesting aspects of the poem are those that relate to the nature of the the child's apprenticeship to a Bristol merchant. That the merchant's profession is represented as a honourable one may suggest that the poem was originally composed for a member (or members) of Bristol's wealthy commercial elite. This seems particularly likely given that many merchants were also financiers and were thus as likely, if not more likely, to be involved in usury than the maligned lawyers of this poem.

The Childe of Bristow

He that made bothe heuene and hell,[1]
man and woman, in dayes vij,
and alle shal fede and fille;
he graunte us alle his blessyng,
more and lasse, bothe olde and yong,
that herkeneth and hold hem stille.

The beste songe that ever was made
ys not worth a lekys blade,
but men wol tende their till;
ther for y pray you in this place
of your talking that ye be pes,
yf it be your wille.

I found it writen in olde hand,
that som tyme dwellid in England
a squyer mykel of myght;
he had castels, tounes, and toures,
feyr forestis and feldes with floures,
beestis wilde and wight.

To lawe he went a gret while,
pore men he lerned to begile
all agayns the right;
mykel good he gadred togedir,
all with treson and dedis lether;
he drad not god almyght.

The good he gadred togeder than
he had it of many a pore man,
the most partye with wrong:
he had a sone shuld be his heyre,
of shap he was semely and feyre,
of lymes large and long.

So moche his mynde was on that chylde
he rought not whom begiled,
worldly good to fong;
and al to make his sone so riche
that non other myght hym be liche,
so ment he ever among.

When the child was xij yere and more
his fader put hym unto lore
to lerne to be a clerke;
so long he lernyd in clergie,
til he was wise and wittye,
and drad all dedis derke.

The fader seid to his sone dere,
"to lawe thu shalt go a yere,
and coste me xx marke;
for ever the better thu shalt be,
ther shall no man be gile the
neyther in worde ne werke."

The child answerd with a soft sawe;
"they fars ful well that lerne no lawe,
and so y hope to do;
that lyue wil y never lede,
to put my soule in so gret drede,
to make god my foo.

To sle my soule it wer routhe;
any science that is trouthe
y shall amytte me ther to;
for to forsake my soule helthe
for any wynnyng of worldes welthe,
that will y never do.

Hit hath ever be myn avise
to lede my lyf by marchandise,
to lerne to bye and selle;
that good getyn by marchantye,
it is trouthe, as thenketh me,
ther with will I melle.

Here at Bristow dwelleth on
is held right a juste trew man,
as y here now telle;
his prentys will y be vij yer,
his science truly for to lere
and with hym will y dwelle."

The squyer unto Bristow rade,
and with the marchand cownant made,
vij yere to have his sone;
he gaf hym gold gret plente,
the child his prentys shuld be,
his science for to conne.

The child toke ful wel to lore,
his love was in god evermore;
as it was his wone,
he wax so curteise and bolde,
all merchants loued hym, yong and olde,
that in that contre gan wone.

Leue we now that child thore,
and of his fader speke we more,
that was so stoute and bolde ;
he was avaunced so hye,
there was no man in that contre
durst don but as he wolde.

And ever he usid usery,
he wold not lene but he wyst why
avauntage dobell tolde;
tethynges he liste never to pay,
yf parsons and vicares wold oght say
he uewid hem cares colde.

All thyng wol end atte last;
god on hym soche sekenes cast,
he myght no leng abide;
but on his ded bed he lay,
and drow toward his endyng day;
for al his power and pride.

Then he sent for knyghtes and squyers,
which were his comperys
in that contre be syde:
he seid emonges hem everych on,
"sires, my lyfis ner gone;
hit may not be denyede."

Ther was no man in that contre
that his executor wold be,
nor for no good ne ill:
they seid his good was geten so
they wold not have there with to do,
for drede of god in heuen.

He prayed hem, and they seid nay;
allas! he seid, and welaway!
with a rufull stevyn:
after hissone son he sent,
evyn to Bristow vereament,
was thens but myles vij.

The child to chamber toke his way;
ther his fader on ded bed lay,
and asked hym of his chere:
"sone, (he sed,) wel come to me;
y ly here now, as you may se;
my endyng day negheth nere.

But, sone, thu must be myn heyre
of al my londes good and faire,
and my lordships fer and ner;
ther for, gone, now y pray the,
myu attorney that thu be,
when y am broght to bere."

The child answerd with wordes mylde;
"ye se, fader, y am but a childe;
discrecion haue y none,
to take soche a charge on me,
by my faith! that shal not be;
y can no skyle ther on.
Here ben knyghtes and squyers,
which were your compers,
and many a worthy man;
yf y shuld soche on me take,
that alle these worthi men forsake,
a fole then wer y one."

He seid; "y haue no sone but the,
and myn heire you most nedis be;
ther may no man sey nay;
moche good haue y gadred to geder
with extorcion and dedis lither,
alas and welaway!

All this, gone, y gadred for the,
and thu so sone failest me
at my nedeful day;
frendship, sone, is yll to triste,
eche man be ware of had y wiste,
god wote, so may I sey."

"Sone, (he seid,) thu scapest not so;
that shalt you weten, or thu go;
he then charge y the
to fore god thu mothe answer,
and as thu wilt my blessyng ber,
myn attorney that thu be."

"A fader, ye bynde me with a charge,
and y shal bynde yow with as large
as ye bynde now me:
the same day fortenyght that ye passe,
y charge yow appere in this place,
yor spiret lat me se.

For ye haue bound me so sare,
now y most nedis, however y fare,
do your commaundement;
ther for y charge yow that ye appere,
that y may se your soule here,
whethir it be saued or shent!

And that ye do no scathe to me,
ne none, that shal come with the."
"sone, (he seid,) y assent,
but, allas, that y was born;
that man is soule shuld be lorn
for my golde or rent."

Al thyng most ende atte last,
god soche sekenys on hym cast,
that he most nedys go:
the parish prest up was soght;
the gloriose sacrament with hym he broght,
that dyed for mannys woo.

Ther he shrove hym with hert sore,
and cryed god mercy ever more!
as it was tyme to do;
when god wold, he went his way;
his sones song was "welaway!"
for hym his hert was wo.

His sone sought fro toun to toun
for prestis and men of religioun
the Dirige for to say:
an C prestis he had and mo;
gret yeftys he gaf them tho,
chargyng hem for his fader to pray.

Yong children had gret hole,
and pore wymmen had gret dole,
(that holpe him not a day;
and sitthe broght hym in his pytt,
as al men must, thei may not flyt,
whether thei wel or nay.

When thei had broght hym in his graue,
his Bone that thoght his soule to saue,
yf god wold gef hym leue;
al the catel his fader hade,
he sold it up and money made,
and labored morow and eve.

He sought aboute in that contre tho,
wher any almes myght be do,
and largely he dyd hem yeue
wayes and brugges for to make,
and pore men for goddes sake
he yeaf hem gret releve.

Who so axed aght, he made her pay,
and xxx tie trental of masses he let say
for his fadres sake;
he let never til he had bewared
all the tresor his fader spared
a seth to god for to make.

By that day fortenyghtes ende was come;
his gold was gon all and some;
(many one of hym spake)
and al thynges that wer meuable,
he gaf aboute, with outen fable,
to pore men that wold take.

By than the fonrtenyght was broght to ende,
the child to the chamber gan wende,
wher his fader dyed;
a doun he knelid half a day;
al the good prayers that he couthe say,
his fader for to abide.

Be twene mydday and under
ther came a blast of lightnyng and dunder
thurgh the walles wide;
as al the place on fire had be;
the child seid, "Benedicite!"
and fast on god he cryde.

And as he sate on his prayere,
Sone be fore hym gan appere,
foule tydynges be twene,
his faders soule brennyng as glede,
the deuel by ye nekke gan hym lede
in a brennyng cheyne.

This child seid, "I conjure the,
what so ever you be, speke to me;"
that other answerd a geyne:
"y am thi fader that the be gate;
now thu may se of myn a state;
lo! how y dwelle in peyne."

The child seid, "ful woo is me,
in this plite that yow se;
it persheth myn hert sore;"
"sone, (he seid,) thus am y led,
for be cause of my falshed
that y used ever more.

Mi good was getyn wrongfully;
but it myght restord be,
and a seth be made ther fore;
an C yer thus shal y do,
gef me my trouthe I wer ago,
for till than my soule is lore."

"Nay, fader, that shal not be;
in better plite y wol yow se,
yf god wol gef me grace;
but ye shal me your trouthe plighte
this same day fourtenyght
ye shal appere in this place.

And y shal labore, yf y may,
to bryng yor soule in better way,
yf y haue lyf and space."
he graunted hym in gret hast;
with that ther cam a donder blast,
and bothe ther way gan passe.

The child had neuer so gret sorwe;
he rose up apon the morwe,
to Bristow gan he wende;
to his mayster he gan say,
"y haue serued yow many a day;
for goddes loue be my frend.

My fader out of this world is past;
I y am come to yow in hast;
y haue euer founde yow kynde ;
me nedith a litel some of gold;
myn heritage shal be sold,
croppe, rote, and rynde."

His maister sed, "what nede wer the
to selle thy thrift so hastely?
it wer not for thy prow;
yf thu any bargeyn haue boght,
for gold ne siluer care you noght;
y shal lene the right y now.

An C mark yf thu wilt haue,
this vij yer y wil neuer craue;
wher for avise the now;
for yf thu selle thyn heritage
that shuld ye holpe in thi yong age,
an unwise man art thow."

"Gramercy! (he seid,) maister hende,
this was a proffer of a frende;
but truly it shal be sold;
better chepe ye shal it have
then any man, so god me saue,
for nedys y must haue gold."

He seid, " what is it worth by yer?"
" ane C marke of money cler;
the stuward this me tolde."
"then shal y gef the iij.C pound,
every penny hole and round;
" the yong [man] seid, "y holde.

Dere mayster, y yow pray,
haue her dedis, -foch me my pay;
for y must houe agayn;
y haue to do in soundre place,
y pray yow, of fourtenyght space
y shal yow quytte certayn."

His mayster loued hym so wele,
he fette hym gold euery dele;
than was the child ful fayn:
he toke his good, and gan to go;
and for his fader his hert was woo,
that bode in so mykel payn.

His sone lete crie al aboute
in churches and markettes, with oute doute,
wher his fader dud wone;
wher his fader dud destriccion
to man or woman in any toun,
they shuld come to his sone.

And he shal make a seth ther fore,
and his good ayen restore,
eche man his porcion;
ever as they come, he made her pay,
and charged hem for his fader pray,
in blisse that he might wone.

By that the fourtenyght was come,
his gold was gon al and some;
then had he ne more:
in to the chamber he went that tide,
the same that his fader in dyde,
and knelid as he dud ore.

And, as he sate in his prayer,
the spiret be fore hym gan apper,
right as he dud be fore;
saue the cheyn away was caught;
blak he was, but he brent noght,
but yet he was in care.

"Wel come, fader, (seid the childe;)
y pray yow with wordes mylde,
tel me of your astate."
"sone, (he seid,) the better for the,
y blessid mote the tyme be,
that euer I the be gate.

Thou hast releuyd me of moche wo:
my bitter chayne is fal me fro,
and the fire so hote;
but yet dwel y stille in peyn,
and euer must, in certeyn,
tyl I haue fulfilled my day."

Fader, (he seid,) I charge yow tel me
what is moste ayens the,
and doth yow most disese?"
"tethynges and offrynges, sone, (he sayd,)
for y them neuer truly payd,
wherfor my peynes may not cesse:

But it be restored agayn
to as many churches in certayn,
and also mykel encresse,
all that for me thu dos pray,
helpeth me not, to the uttermost day,
the valure of a pese.

Ther for, sone, y pray the
gef me my trouthe y left with the,
and let me wynde my way."
"nay, fader, (he seid,) ye gete it noght,
another craft ther shal be soght,
yet efte y will assay;

But yor trouthe the shal me plight,
this same day a fourtenyght
ye shal come ageyn to your day;
ye shall appere her in this place,
and y shal loke, with goddes grace,
to amend yow, yf y may."

The spiret went forth in his way;
the childe rose up that other day;
for no thyng wold he lette:
even to Bristowe gan he wynde;
ther he mette with his maister kynde;
wel goodly he hym grette.

"When y haue nede y come to yow,
mayster, but ye helpe me now;
in sorwe my herte is sette;
me nedeth a litel summe of gold;
another bargeyn make y wold;"
and with that word he wepte.

His maister seid, "thou art a fole;
thu has ben at som bad scole;
by my fecth y hold the mad;
for thu has played atte dice,
or at som other games nyce,
and lost vp sone that thu had.

Thu hast right noght that thou may selle;
all is gon, as y here telle;
thi gouernaunce, sone, is bad."
then he seid until his maister fre,
"myn owne bodye y wil selle to the,
for euer to be thy lad.

Bonde to the y will me bynde;
me and alle myne, to the worldes ende,
to helpe me in this nede."
he seid, "how mykel woldest you haue?"
"xl mark, and ye wold foche saue,
for that shuld do my dede.

I hope that shal my cares kele."
the burger louyd the child so wele,
that to his chamber he yede;
xl pound he gan hym brynge:
"sone, her is more than thyn askyng; -
almyghti god the spede!"

"Gramercy! sire, (gan he say;)
god yow quytte that best may!
and trewe ye shal me fynde;
y have to do a thyng or two,
a fourtenyght gef me lef to go,
y have euer founde yow kynde."

He gaf hym leue; he went his way;
but on his fader he thoght ay,
he goth not out of mynde;
he sought alle the churches in that contre,
wher his fader had dwellid by,
he left not one be hynde.

He made a seth with hem echon;
by that tyme his gold was gon,
they couthe aske hym no mare;
saue as he went by the strete,
with a pore man gan he mete,
al most naked and bare.  

"Your fader oweth me for a zeme of corn."
down he knelid him be forn.
"for yor faders soules sake;
and y hym drad ful sare,
som amendes to me ye make,
for hym that Marie bare."

"Welaway ! (seid the yong man,) .
for my gold and siluer is gan;
y haue not for to pay:"-
of his clothes he gan take,
and put hem on the pore manis bake,
chargyng for his fader to pray.

Hosen and shon he gaue hym tho;
in sherte and breche he gan go;
he had no clothes gay,
in"to the chamber he went that tide,
the same that his fader on dyde,
and knelid half a day.

When he had knelid and prayed long,
hym thoght he herd the myriest song
that any erthely man myght here;
after the song, he saw a light,
as thow a thousant torches bright,
it shone so faire and clere.

In that light, so faire lemand,
a naked child in angel hand
be fore hym dud appere;
and seid, "sone, blessed thu be,
and all that euer shall come of the,
that euer thu goten were."

"Fader, (he seid,) ful wel is me,
in that plite that y yow se;
y hone that ye be saue."
"sone, (he seid,) y go to blisse;
god almyghti quyte the this!
thi good ageyn to haue;

Thu has made the ful bare
to aqueynche me of mykel care,
my trouthe, good sone, y craue."
"haue your trouthe (he seid) fre,
and of thi blessyng I pray the,
yf that ye wold foche saue.'"

"In that blessyng mote tho wone,
that our lady gaf here sone,
and myn on the y lay."
now that soule is gon to blisse
with moche joye and angelis,
more then y can say.

This child thanked god almyght
and his moder Marye bryght,
when he sey that aray;
euen to Bristow gan he gon
in his sherte and breche allon;
hed he no clothes gay.

When this burges the child gan se,
he seid then, "Benedicite!
sone, what araye is this?"
"truly, maister, (seid the childe,)
y am come me to yelde
as your bonde man."

The burges seid anon right,
"me mervayleth mykel of the sight;
tel me now how it ys."
"whatsom euer ye put me to,
after my power it shall be do,
while my lyf wil laste."

"For the loue be twene vs hath be,
tell me, sone, how it stant with the;
why thu gos in this way:"
"Sir, al my good y haue sold, y wys,
to gete my fader to heuene blys;
for sothe as y yow say.

For ther was no man but y,
that wold be his attorny
at his endyng day."
tho he told hym further,
how ofte he dud his fader appere,
and eke in what aray.

"And now his soule into blisse
y sey hym led with angelis;
almyghti god the yelde!
for thurf your good he is saue,
and his dere blessyng y haue,
and al my cares be kelde."

"Sone, (he seid,) blessed mote thou be,
that so pore woldest make the,
thy faders soule to saue;
to speke the honor may al mankynde;
thu art a tristy siker frende;
soche fynde y but silden;

But fewe sones ben of tho,
that wol serue her fader so,
when he is hens gon;
certes fynd y many on,
but none soche as you art on;
by my fecth y leve not on."

Hys maister seid, "y shal the tell,
thu canst both bye and sell;
here now make y the
myn owne felow in al wise
of worldly good and merchandise,
for thy trouthe so fre.

Al so, sone, y haue no childe
myn heritage for to wilde,
goten of my body;
here y make the now myn heyr
of alle my landes good and faire,
and myn attorney that you be."

His maister dud hym weddid be
to a worthy manis doghter of that contre
with joye and grete solace;
and when his mayster was ded,
in to all his good he entred,
landes, cateIl, and place.

Thus hath this yong man keuered care;
first was riche and sitthen bare,
and sitthen richer then euer he was:
now he that made both helle and heuene,
and all the worlde in dayes seuene,
graunte vs alle his grace.



abide, make atonement for, expiate
amytte, apply
asseth, satisfaction
ayen, ayens, against
bere, burial
bewared, expended
brennyng, burning
brugges, bridges
but, unless
can (ken), know
chepe, bargain
conne, learn
disese, to trouble, to annoy
districcion (destruction), injury
dole, grief
dunder, thunder
efte, again
ever amonge, always
fayn, glad
foch save, vouchsafe
fong (or fang), to seize
glede, a live coal
hende, gentle
hissone (his'n), his own
hole (howl), lamentation
hone, to long for
houe (hove), to move
kele, kelde, cool, cooled
keuered (covered), recovered
lemand, glittering
lene, lend
lether, lither, wicked
lette, omit  
lore, lost, undone
leve, abbrev. for believe
melle (meddle), mix
mothe, must
nyce, foolish
ore (pro yore), formeliy
pese, pea
prow, profit
quytte, abbrev. for requite
rought, preterite of to reck
routhe, pity
shent, ruined
siker (secure), safe
sitthen, afterwards
stevyn, groan
tende, abbrev. for attend
tho, then
thurf, through
trental, thirty masses or 30 days of masses
treson (trahison), grasping
trouthe, honest
trouthe (troth), pledge
vereament, truly
valure, value
welaway, an exclamation of woe
weten, know
wight, lively, sprightly
wone, dwell
wone (wont), custom
yede (hied), went
zeme(seam), a quarter of corn


[1] Here evidently must be an error in the transcript. To complete the rhythm it should read 'He that made bothe hell and heuene."- Vide last stanza.

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