A Monk of Fife

A Monk of Fife

A MONK OF FIFE ANDREW LANG PREFACE Norman Leslie of Pitcullo whose narrative the reader has in his hands refers more than once to his unfinished Latin Chronicle. That work usually known as "The Book of Pluscarden" has been edited by Mr. Felix Skene in the series of "Historians of Scotland" (vol. vii.). To Mr. Skene's introduction and notes the curious are referred. Here it may suffice to say that the original MS. of the Latin Chronicle is lost; that of six known manuscript copies none is older than 1480; that two of these copies contain a Prologue; and that the Prologue tells us all that has hitherto been known about the author. The date of the lost Latin original is 1461 as the author himself avers. He also in his Prologue states the purpose of his work. At the bidding of an unnamed Abbot of Dunfermline who must have been Richard Bothwell he is to abbreviate "The Great Chronicle" and "bring it up to date" as we now say. He is to recount the events of his own time "with certain other miraculous deeds which I who write have had cognisance of seen and heard beyond the bounds of this realm. Also lastly concerning a certain marvellous Maiden who recovered the kingdom of France out of the hands of the tyrant Henry King of England. The aforesaid Maiden I saw was conversant with and was in her company in her said recovery of France and till her life's end I was ever present." After "I was ever present" the copies add "etc." perhaps a sign of omission. The monkish author probably said more about the heroine of his youth and this the copyists have chosen to leave out. The author never fulfilled this promise of telling in Latin the history of the Maid as her career was seen by a Scottish ally and friend. Nor did he ever explain how a Scot and a foe of England succeeded in being present at the Maiden's martyrdom in Rouen. At least he never fulfilled his promise as far as any of the six Latin MSS. of his Chronicle are concerned. Every one of these MSS.-- doubtless following their incomplete original--breaks off short in the middle of the second sentence of Chapter xxxii. Book xii. Here is the brief fragment which that chapter contains:- "In those days the Lord stirred up the spirit of a certain marvellous Maiden born on the borders of France in the duchy of Lorraine and the see of Toul towards the Imperial territories. This Maiden her father and mother employed in tending sheep; daily too did she handle the distaff; man's love she knew not; no sin as it is said was found in her to her innocence the neighbours bore witness . . . " Here the Latin narrative of the one man who followed Jeanne d'Arc through good and evil to her life's end breaks off abruptly. The author does not give his name; even the name of the Abbot at whose command he wrote "is left blank as if it had been erased in the original" (Mr. Felix Skene "Liber Pluscardensis" in the "Historians of Scotland" vii. p. 18). It might be guessed that the original fell into English hands between 1461 and 1489 and that they blotted out the name of the author and destroyed a most valuable record of their conqueror and their victim Jeanne d'Arc. Against this theory we have to set the explanation here offered by Norman Leslie our author in the Ratisbon Scots College's French MS. of which this work is a translation. Leslie never finished his Latin Chronicle but he wrote in French the narrative which follows decorating it with the designs which Mr. Selwyn Image has carefully copied in black and white. Possessing this information we need not examine Mr. W. F. Skene's learned but unconvincing theory that the author of the fragmentary Latin work was one Maurice Drummond out of the Lennox. The hypothesis is that of Mr. W. F. Skene and Mr. Felix Skene points out the difficulties which beset the opinion of his distinguished kinsman. Our Monk is a man of Fife. As to the veracity of the following narrative the translator finds it minutely corroborated wherever corroboration could be expected in the large mass of documents which fill the five volumes of M. Quicherat's "Proces de Jeanne d'Arc" in contemporary chronicles and in MSS. more recently discovered in French local or national archives. Thus Charlotte Boucher Barthelemy Barrette Noiroufle the Scottish painter and his daughter Elliot Capdorat ay even Thomas Scott the King's Messenger were all real living people traces of whose existence with some of their adventures survive faintly in brown old manuscripts. Louis de Coutes the pretty page of the Maid a boy of fourteen may have been hardly judged by Norman Leslie but he certainly abandoned Jeanne d'Arc at her first failure. So after explaining the true position and character of our monkish author and artist we leave his book to the judgment which it has tarried for so long. CHAPTER I--HOW THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN AND HOW NORMAN LESLIE FLED OUT OF FIFE It is not of my own will nor for my own glory that I Norman Leslie sometime of Pitcullo and in religion called Brother Norman of the Order of Benedictines of Dunfermline indite this book. But on my coming out of France in the year of our Lord One thousand four hundred and fifty-nine it was laid on me by my Superior Richard Abbot in Dunfermline that I should abbreviate the Great Chronicle of Scotland and continue the same down to our own time. {1} He bade me tell moreover all that I knew of the glorious Maid of France called Jeanne la Pucelle in whose company I was from her beginning even till her end. Obedient therefore to my Superior I wrote in this our cell of Pluscarden a Latin book containing the histories of times past but when I came to tell of matters wherein as Maro says "pars magna fui" I grew weary of such rude barbarous Latin as alone I am skilled to indite for of the manner Ciceronian as it is now practised by clerks of Italy I am not master: my book therefore I left unfinished breaking off in the middle of a sentence. Yet considering the command laid on me in the end I am come to this resolve namely to write the history of the wars in France and the history of the blessed Maid (so far at least as I was an eyewitness and partaker thereof) in the French language being the most commonly understood of all men and the most delectable. It is not my intent to tell all the story of the Maid and all her deeds and sayings for the world would scarcely contain the books that should be written. But what I myself beheld that I shall relate especially concerning certain accidents not known to the general by reason of which ignorance the whole truth can scarce be understood. For if Heaven visibly sided with France and the Maid no less did Hell most manifestly take part with our old enemy of England. And often in this life if we look not the more closely and with the eyes of faith Sathanas shall seem to have the upper hand in the battle with whose very imp and minion I myself was conversant to my sorrow as shall be shown. First concerning myself I must say some few words to the end that what follows may be the more readily understood. I was born in the kingdom of Fife being by some five years the younger of two sons of Archibald Leslie of Pitcullo near St. Andrews a cadet of the great House of Rothes. My mother was an Englishwoman of the Debatable Land a Storey of Netherby and of me in our country speech it used to be said that I was "a mother's bairn." For I had ever my greatest joy in her whom I lost ere I was sixteen years of age and she in me: not that she favoured me unduly for she was very just but that within ourselves we each knew who was nearest to her heart. She was indeed a saintly woman yet of a merry wit and she had great pleasure in reading of books and in romances. Being always when I might in her company I became a clerk insensibly and without labour I could early read and write wherefore my father was minded to bring me up for a churchman. For this cause I was some deal despised by others of my age and yet more because from my mother I had caught the Southron trick of the tongue. They called me "English Norman" and many a battle I have fought on that quarrel for I am as true a Scot as any and I hated the English (my own mother's people though they were) for taking and holding captive our King James I. of worthy memory. My fancy like that of most boys was all for the wars and full of dreams concerning knights and ladies dragons and enchanters about which the other lads were fain enough to hear me tell what I had read in romances though they mocked at me for reading. Yet they oft came ill speed with their jests for my brother had taught me to use my hands: and to hold a sword I was instructed by our smith who had been prentice to Harry Gow the Burn-the-Wind of Perth and the best man at his weapon in broad Scotland. From him I got many a trick of fence that served my turn later. But now the evil time came when my dear mother sickened and died leaving to me her memory and her great chain of gold. A bitter sorrow is her death to me still; but anon my father took to him another wife of the Bethunes of Blebo. I blame myself rather than this lady that we dwelt not happily in the same house. My father therefore still minded to make me a churchman sent me to Robert of Montrose's new college that stands in the South Street of St. Andrews a city not far from our house of Pitcullo. But there like a wayward boy I took more pleasure in the battles of the "nations"- -as of Fife against Galloway and the Lennox; or in games of catch- pull football wrestling hurling the bar archery and golf--than in divine learning--as of logic and Aristotle his analytics. Yet I loved to be in the scriptorium of the Abbey and to see the good Father Peter limning the blessed saints in blue and red and gold of which art he taught me a little. Often I would help him to grind his colours and he instructed me in the laying of them on paper or vellum with white of egg and in fixing and burnishing the gold and in drawing flowers and figures and strange beasts and devils such as we see grinning from the walls of the cathedral. In the French language too he learned me for he had been taught at the great University of Paris; and in Avignon had seen the Pope himself Benedict XIII. of uncertain memory. Much I loved to be with Father Peter whose lessons did not irk me but jumped with my own desire to read romances in the French tongue whereof there are many. But never could I have dreamed that in days to come this art of painting would win me my bread for a while and that a Leslie of Pitcullo should be driven by hunger to so base and contemned a handiwork unworthy when practised for gain of my blood. Yet it would have been well for me to follow even this craft more and my sports and pastimes less: Dickon Melville had then escaped a broken head and I perchance a broken heart. But youth is given over to vanities that war against the soul and among others to that wicked game of the Golf now justly cried down by our laws {2} as the mother of cursing and idleness mischief and wastery of which game as I verily believe the devil himself is the father. It chanced on an October day of the year of grace Fourteen hundred and twenty-eight that I was playing myself at this accursed sport with one Richard Melville a student of like age with myself. We were evenly matched though Dickon was tall and weighty being great of growth for his age whereas I was of but scant inches slim and as men said of a girlish countenance. Yet I was well skilled in the game of the Golf and have driven a Holland ball the length of an arrow-flight there or thereby. But wherefore should my sinful soul be now in mind of these old vanities repented of I trust long ago? As we twain Dickon and I were known for fell champions at this unholy sport many of the other scholars followed us laying wagers on our heads. They were but a wild set of lads for as then there was not as now there is a house appointed for scholars to dwell in together under authority. We wore coloured clothes and our hair long; gold chains and whingers {3} in our belts all of which things are now most righteously forbidden. But I carried no whinger ...