Lydgate’s Troy Book

Author: John Lydgate
Original Language: English
Place of Composition: England
Date of Composition: 1412-1420 according to statements by the author in the poem
Source of Text: Henry Bergen ed., Lydgate’s Troy Book. A.D. 1412-20. Edited from the Best Manuscripts. Part I: Prologue, Book I, and Book II. Early English Text Society. Kegan Paul: London, 1907. Part II: Book III. Early English Text Society. Kegan Paul: London, 1908. Part III: Books IV, V. Early English Text Society. Kegan Paul: London, 1910. Transcribed by Sean Manning.
Source of Translation: n/a

John Lydgate retold the medieval version of the Trojan War cycle in verse for presentation to Henry V of England. He seems to have been aware that Homeric heroes were armed and armoured differently than the men-at-arms of his own day, but settled this by dressing his characters in the latest kit but arming important characters with swords, bows, and lances while keeping the pollaxes, guns, and pots of wyld-fire in the background. His sources mostly dated to the twelfth and thirteenth century.

Readers unaccustomed to reading English from the fifteenth century may find this difficult to read. I can understand it, but lack the time to write a translation. Lydgate’s dialect is very similar to Chaucer’s, and there are many guides to reading Chaucer’s English online, such as this one by Bella Millett. Bergen faithfully transcribed the letters thorn þ and yogh ȝ in the manuscripts, and I have followed him. The Early English Text Society still exists and makes this and other texts available for a modest price.

Lydgate divided his poem into five books (indicated in Roman numerals in the excerpts). Bergen added line numbers every four lines (marked with Arabic numerals in the excerpts). Bergen’s edition is divided into three volumes each of which contains one or two books of Lydgate’s poem.

(There is a partial online edition of Lydgate’s Troy Book in the TEAMS Middle English Text Series here. The editors chose to aggressively cut their text, removing many of the passages dealing with arms and armour. I have therefore transcribed what I found interesting from Bergen’s edition).

The Trojans arm for battle

And some of hem gan ful streite lace (III.44)
Her doubbettis made of lyne cloth,
A certeyn fold þat a-boute hem goth;
And some also dempte most surest
To armen hem for bataille of arest, (48) bataille of arest: MED entry does not help
And dide on firste, aftir her desires,
Sabatouns, grevis, cusscheweis, & voideris-
A peire breke, aldirfirst, of maille; // aldir- : “- of all”
And some þere were eke þat nolde faille (52) // nolde = ne wolde “did not want”
To han of maille eke a peir[e] bras,
And þer-with-al, as þe custom was,
A peir Gussetis on a petycote,
Garnyssched with gold vp on-to the þrote, (56)
A paunce of plate, whiche of þe silf be-hinde
War schet and clos, and þer-on, as I finde,
Enviroun was a bordure of smal maille.
And some chose, of þe newe entaille, (60) // entaille: “style, fashion”
For to be sure myd of al her foos,
An hol brest-plate with a rere-doos, // rere-doos = reredos “backplate”
Be-hynde schet, or ellis on þe side.
And on his armys, rynged nat to wyde, (64)
þer wer woidours frettid in þe maille, // woidours = voiders
With cordis rounde, & of fresche entaille,
Vauntbras with wynges, & rerebras þer-to.
And þere-on set wer besagus also; (68)
Vp-on þe heed a basenet of stele,
þat with-Inne lokked was ful wele,
A crafty siȝt wrouȝt in þe viser.
And some wolde have of plate a bavier, (72) // bavier = bevor “armour for the throat and chin”
Þat on þe brest fastynd be a-forn,
Þe canel-pece more esy to be born-
Gloues of plate of stele forgid briȝt.
And some wolde armyd be more liȝt (76)
In þikke Iackys curid with satyn; // curid: perhaps equivalent to cured “covered”?
And some wele haue, of maille, wrouȝt ful fyn,
An haberioun, al of but cassade, // cassade: MED cannot explain this
Þat with weiȝte he be nat ouer-lade, (80)
Hym silfe to welde lik a lifly man.
And some wil haue, of chosen geseran, // geseran = jazerant “a type of armour, probably mail covered with cloth”
On his doublet but an haberioun,
And some only but a sure gepoun (84)
Ouer his poleyns, rechyng to Þe kne,
And Þat Þe slevis eke so longe be
Þat his vaunbras may be curid ner-
A prikyng palet, of plate Þe cower. (88)
And some wil haue also no visier
To saue his face, but only a naser;
And some wil haue a peir[e] of platis liȝt
To welde hym wel, when þat he schal fiȝt. (92)
And some wiln han a target or a spere,
And some a pavis, his body for to were,
And some a targe, makyd strong to laste;
And some wil haue dartes for to caste, (96)
Some a pollex, heueded of fyn stele,
And pikyd square, for to laste wel;
And some a swerd his enemy for to mete.
And some wil haue a bow[e] for to schete, (100)
Somme an arbalest, to stonden out a-syde;
And some on fote and some for to ride
Arraie hem sif, her fomen to assaile;
And many on was best for to naille (104)
His felawis harneis, for to make it strong,
And with to dresse it, þat it sete nouȝt wrong,
With pointes, tresses, and oþer maner þing,
Þat in swyche cas longyth to armyng. (108)
I have no konnyng euery Þing to telle,
And vn-to ow it were to long to dwelle-
Where if I faille, ȝe mote haue me excusid;
For in swiche crafte I am litel vsid, (112)
And ignourance doþe my penne lette,
In her ordre my termys for to sete.
And oft changeth swich harneis & devis;
And ȝe þat ben þer-in experte & wys, (116)
Disdeyneth þat I speke in þis place
Of her armyng; for al is in ȝour grace,
Riȝt at ȝour luste to correcte euerydel.

(This passage has a lot to teach us about how the English thought and spoke about armour at the time of Agincourt)

Hector chases Prothenor

For with his swerd he marked him so wel
Þoru basenet, by his breste of stele, (III.2628)
Þat in-to tweyn, with-outen any faile,
He rofe him doun in-to his paunce of maile // paunce: belly defense

(Medieval people seemed to enjoy imagining heroes long ago and far away splitting their enemies in two; the Song of Roland and the illuminations of the Maciejowski Bible both show this trope).

Paris sees King Palamides and shoots at him with a poisoned arrow

And hitte hym so in þe aventaille, (IIII.1373)
Þrouȝ-oute þe stuf and þe þikke maylle
In-to his þrote þat it gan þoruȝ pace,
Þat he fil ded in Þe silve place, (1376)
Pallamydes, þis manful worþi knyȝt.

(Clear description of an aventail with a cloth cover or lining)

The Myrmidons attack Troilus …

And somme he smet euene þoruȝ þe syde, (IIII.2480) // smet = smote
Þoruȝ the body, & some þoruȝ þe herte;
And with his swerd þoruȝ doublet & sherte,
Þoruȝ shield and plate, & Þoruȝ haberioun
He perced hath, and like a wood lyoun (2484) // wood: mad
He slow Þat day of hem many oon

(These Myrmidons seem to wear shirt, doublet, haubergeon, and plates)

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