This piece is based on the conceit that a folio was lost from the Ellesmere Chaucer (Huntingdon Library MSS EL26 C 9), with a missing Canterbury Tale. The tale of the Baronesse of Oxenford is based on the scroll commission which detailed Arianhwy’s assistance to Yannick and Alana, particularly in their first weeks in post. The Tale is written in Middle English, imitating Chaucer's southern English dialect.
The Ellesmere Chaucer is a significant secular illuminated codex of the early 15th Century. It includes the full text of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is written in a Gothic littera bastarda hand, painted largely in lapis and crimson, with gilt illumination. The folios are about 284mm wide by 400mm high, and of 232 originally inscribed pages (of 240 folio pages), of which 71 have foliated borders, of which 23 have equestrian portraits of Chaucer’s pilgrims painted apparently by at least two artists.
|Ellesmere Chaucer f72 v|
This piece represents a verso page and the following recto page, inspired by one of the 23 pages which include a foliated border and an equestrian portrait (cf f 72r, f 47r), and by one of the comparatively undecorated following pages (eg f 24r or f 61r). In this piece the Baroness of Oxenford is dressed very much like the Wife of Bath, with a similar horse, tack and clothing. Notably she is wearing a pair of loose riding boots which cover much of her skirts, and she is wearing an SCA baroness’s coronet on her broad-brimmed hat. Her horse is at the charge, and as her weapon she bears a quill.
|Detail from Ellesmere Chaucer f 72r|
The pages are about 80% larger (at 500mm wide and 700mm high) than the original (284mm wide by 400mm high) to provide enough room for 80 lines of the 84-line tale), and the foliated border is proportionately larger. The hand is a version of my usual bâtarde which pays homage to the original. The pages are folded at the binding line and pricked for stitching. The deleted lines (struck out in the text below) are written on the verso of the second page along with a colophon.
The piece is made on Pedroni white Pergamenata 230gsm laminated pulp paper in place of parchment, with minium in place of crimson. The gesso is made of rabbit skin glue, whiting and a very little bit of titanium white (in place of white lead). The blue pigments are ground lapis, the violet is ultramarine with alizarin lake, and the illustrations are drawn in walnut ink. The gilding is 23.5ct gold transfer leaf, laid down over Roberson’s size (gum arabic and Armenian bole). I made up the blue and red (lapis and minium respectively) pigments from dry using (Roberson’s) gum arabic water. The original was written with quills using iron gall ink. For convenience this piece is written with a steel pen using Rotring calligraphy ink.
In the daies of Yannick the mightious archier-prince
And Alana, the wise-handed ladie of same province,
Thei didde bet fos soe manie
wilen taken the Dragouniles destine
thei didde looken eche atte thother
for what thei next must do conned never-nother
So long had thei made red and wagen war
shenden theiren fos when they had more
than cumpassen the ruine of the former
archier-princes Pol and Caitriona
thei had not a thoughte for hou governen
this land or manie iles, bothe wiled and roten,
bountevous and verray poverisht
(for not everie principate florisht).
So didde princes counseul wiseli wot
to swch onother of that folk of shot,
wizsnid Arianhwy, Baronesse,
learned ladi wise with anrednesse.
Here endeth the Baroness hire prologue and beginneth hire tale
Now Arianhwy Wen, which signifien
Arianhwy Whit for pal her skin.
She lerned was in gramarie and logiqe,
a pratie honde she wrote hire rethoriqe.
With a eu-boue, she was right well sharp
thei say that in hire youth she pleied the scarp
with a sworde and bucclere as wel righte
when in armour she was samendighte.
bitimen hire voix were harsk they sei
and certes rhotiqe even with the wide
of the land biyonde se-occeans tide.
Biforen yore she held armes aword
ful yore agone thei did their will accord,
Dragounwold princes. By graunt in fee
later souveraigns maked her their feffe;
They maked her of the Pinnash a felaue,
her lindquist ring recorded in escrowe
her Silverenward made up the bigge thre
‘the dragoun’s hat-tric’ clept in this contre.
Felau she was of Holi Ffraid’s covent
and of the vox’s order did provent.
She wore the silveren martlet robe and bagge
swch honour she had geten with quilles egge.
Heraulds of armes named hende eke
for ontime she couthe tweie sitte and speke.
Lo on holi daies and semidoubles,
sheren shep of excellents and nobles
by curiouste use of trumpes and of pleies.
She were a potentat known alweies
For potaciouns potent whiche roum-honded doled,
When her licour’s botel was forgoled
But whiche nevere touched herouen lippes.
Somme seie that this had ought to do
with hire at Baronetti winnen so.
Wher sitte she at the loue table shouest
able of maken hir the very louest
Wher above the salt sat she was ever
sad and seur and semeli hoasever.
She vulgar was amonges the vulgar, but
alwaies grete amonges the grete, goddut.
All who meten hire were liften up,
and non hath evermor ben shamed therup.
A baronesse is called excellence
bi force of hire estat, a recompense.
but the princes of thiles had founden
that Arianhwy excellence abounden
in all she did, and that she was an exaumple
to queinte princes’ nobles ever ample.
Bitimes ther were five-and-twenti noblesse
of thiles joigned togederes by the princess
and princes of the Dragouniles
for excellence and for exaumple otherwiles.
the feste of halwe Ust, ad diem four nere
thides of aoust, in twoscore and twelfth yere
didde Yannick and Alana, Prince and Princesse
sumoun close this Arianhwy, Baronesse,
bifor theim and didde commaunde hire
to accompaignie theires noble ensaumplere
and beren ther bagge of the sunne and chalice
so that all might know hire for the wise
and craftful womman she was. And so
it was preched to theires court, lo,
all wist Arianhwy Wen participat
of the heighest menske in the principat.
The Baroness’s Tale in Modern English
In the days of Yannick the mighty archer-prince,
And Alana, the wise-handed lady of the same province,
They did beat foes so many
while taking the Dragouniles dynasty
they did look each at the other
for what they next must do neither knew
So long had they made plans and waged war,
destroying their foes when they had more
than achieved the downfall of the former
archer-princes Pol and Caitriona
they had not a thought for how to govern
this land of many isles, both wild and settled,
bountiful and truly impoverished
(for not every principality flourishes).
So did princes’ counsel wisely know
to turn to another who could shoot a bow,
wizened Arianhwy, Baroness,
learned lady well-advised.
Now Arianhwy Wen, which signifies
Arianhwy the White for pale was her skin.
She was learned in grammar and rhetoric.
With a yew bow she was right well sharp
they say that in her youth she played the sharp
with a sword and bcukler and was not afraid
when in her armour she was arrayed.
From Outremer had she once come away,
long ago her voice was harsh they say
and certainly rhotic even with the accent
of the land beyond the ocean’s tide.
Years ago she held arms by award
long ago they agreed their will,
Dragounwold’s princes. By grant in fee
later sovereigns made her their foeffee;
They made her of the Panache a fellow,
her Lindquist ring recorded in escrow,
her Silver Guard made up the big three
‘the dragon’s hat-trick’ called in this country.
Fellow she was of Holy Ffraid’s convent
and of the Fox’s order she did profit.
She wore the silver martlet robe and badge;
This honour she had got with her quill’s edge.
Heralds of arms named her very handy
for she could at once both sit and speak.
Lo, on holy days and church festivals,
she sheared sheep of their excellents and nobles*
by curious use of trumps and of plays.
She was a potentate known always
For potent potations which she generously doled,
When her liquor bottle was uncorked,
Some say that this had something to do
with her winning so at Baronetti.
Where she sat at the low table she showed
she could make herself the very lowest.
When she was sat above the salt however,
She was ever sober and sure and seemly.
She was vulgar among the vulgar, but
Always great among the great, God knows.
All who met her were lifted up,
and none has evermore been ashamed of it.
A baronesse is called ‘excellence’
by force of her estate, a recompense;
but the princes of the Isles had found
that in Arianhwy excellence abounds
in all she did, and that she was an example
to the quaint princes’ nobles, ever ample.
Betimes there were five-and-twenty nobles
of the Isles joined together by the princesses
and princes of the Dragouniles
for excellence and otherwise for example.
So at Raglan Fair in the county of Monmouth
the feast of St Just, four days before
the Ides of August, in the twoscore and twelfth year
did Yannick and Alana, Prince and Princess,
summon close this Arianhwy, Baroness,
before them and did command her
to join the company of their noble examples
and bear their badge of the sun and chalice
so that all might know her for the wise
and craftful woman she was. And so
it was preached to their court, lo,
all knew Arianhwy Wen was a participant
in the principality’s highest honour.
*Excellents and nobles were types of mediaeval coin. Here there is a double meaning, ‘shearing sheep of their coins’ and ‘shearing sheep who were excellencies and nobles’.