John Lydgate’s Letter to Gloucester

Jul 28, 2017 |

Freelance writing has its share of issues. John Lydgate was Henry Duke of Gloucester’s Latin-to-English translator of choice. Lydgate assiduously translated extremely lengthy Latin texts (the Fall of Princes itself was 26k lines of Latin). Humphrey was happy to make requests but didn’t understand payment in installments.

When you don’t pay your writers, you get even more words for free. In this case, Humphrey got a free poem.

The fact that this was sent to one of the highest-ranking men in England makes it all the more audacious.

The original text can be found here, and I’ve supplied a generally-modernized version of this wonderful poem below.

John Lydgate, Letter to Gloucester (excerpt, modernized by John Mickey)

Right mighty prince, and it be your will,
Condescends lesser for to take
To see the content of this little bill,
Which when I wrote my hand I felt quake.
Taken to mourning, I wear clothes black
Cause my purse fell into great rerage,
Lining outward, his guts were out-shake:
Only for lack of plate and coinage.

I sought leeches for a restorative,
In whom I found no consolation,
Apothecaries for a comfortive,
Drag nor dia was none in Bury-town.
Bottom of his stomach turned up-side-down,
A laxative did him so great outrage,
Made him slender by a consumption:
Only for lack of plate and of coinage.

Ship was there none nor sails ready-of-hew,
The wind forward to make him there to land.
The flood was passed and suddenly of new,
A low ground-ebb was fast by the strand,
But no mariner darest take on hand
To cast an anchor for straightness of passage.
The custom scarce (as folk may understand):
Only for lack of plate and of coinage.

There was no token sent down from the Tour,
As any gossamer the counterpiece was light.
A frightening attack caused his langour
By a quotidian which held him day and night;
Sol and Luna were clipsed of their light,
There was no cross nor present of no visage,
His lining dark, there were no plates bright:
Only for lack and scarcity of coinage.

Hard to lick honey out of a marble stoon
For there is neither liquor nor moisture.
A payment is grotesque when it is drunk and gone,
Bargain of merchants, stint in aventure.
My purse and I be called to the lure
Of Indigence, our stuff laid in mortgage.
But ye, my lord, may all our sore re-cure:
With a receipt of plate and of coinage.

Not sugar-plate made by th’apothecary,
Plate of bright metal giveth a merry sound:
In Boklerysbury is non such lectuary.
Gold is a cordial, gladdest confection.
Against etiquettes of old consumption:
Aurum Potabile [drinkable gold] for folk fairly-run in age,
In quintessence best restoration
With silver plate imprinted with coinage.


O seely bill why art thou not ashamed
So malapert, to show out thy constraint?
But poverty hath so nigh thy town attained
That nichil habet [to have nothing] is cause of thy complaint.
A dry phthisic makith old men feel faint,
Readiest way to renew their courage
Is a fresh drag, of no spices meant,
But of bright plate imprinted with coinage.

Thou mayst affirm, as for thyn excuse,
They barren sail is sole and solitary:
Of cross nor pill there is no recluse,
Present nor impression in all they sanctuary.
To conclude briefly and not to tarry:
There is no noise heard in thyn hermitage.
God send soon a gladder letter
With a clear sound of plate and of coinage.

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