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The pastourelle achieved what might be called its classic form in Middle French poetry of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries: a mini-narrative in which the narrator, a knight or clerk, tells how he tried to have his will with a lower-class girl he happened upon while riding in the country. He greets her, sweet-talks her, and propositions her; she protests vigorously. Sometimes the debate ends here. Otherwise, her accoster overcomes her resistance by guile or force, and sexually assails her. The tone is light-hearted and cynical, the action crude. To modern readers, this narrative may be mildly amusing, rather tedious, or downright offensive. In Britain, however, where pastourelles are later and far fewer in number, the genre is handled more variously. This study examines thirteen poems that can be regarded as pastourelles, five in Middle English and eight in in Middle Scots. In contrast to the French model, where interiority, such as there is, involves the male perspective, the pastourelles composed in English or Scots give substance to the woman’s side of the debate. Whether or not she emerges as the victor in the encounter, her perspective is presented in thought-provoking and challenging ways, and becomes the most important contribution of the insular pastourelle corpus to medieval and early modern poetry.


[1] On the “classical” pastourelle, see the introduction to William Paden, ed. and trans., The Medieval Pastourelle vols. 1 and 2 (New York: Garland Medieval Press, 1987), 1.ix-xiii.

[1] Geri Smith, The Medieval French Pastourelle Tradition: Poetic Motivations and Generic Transformations (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009), 9.

[1] Kathryn Gravdal, “Camouflaging Rape: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in the Medieval Pastourelle,” Romanic Review 76 (1985): 361-73. See also her fuller study, Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Presss, 1995).

[1] See Carissa M. Harris, Obscene Pedagogies: Transgressive Talk and Sexual Education in Late Medieval Britain (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018), 103-49.

[1] The Digital Index of Middle English Verse, compiled and edited by Linne R. Mooney, Daniel W. Mosser, and Elizabeth Solopova, with Deborah Thorpe, David Hill Radcliffe, and Len Hatfield. www.dimev.net. Accessed January 8th 2021. Here cited as DIMEV.

[1] Quotations of the ME (but not the Scottish) pastourelles taken from Anne L. Klinck, The Voices of Medieval English Lyric: An Anthology of Poems ca. 1150-1530 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019). Thorn, yogh, and & in the present paper are modernized/expanded to th, y, and. Word-initial double f and word-final (Scottish) double s are treated as a single letter. References to Klinck’s edition are by stanza and line number; references to other editions by line number only, numbered continuously.

[1] See Klinck, Voices, No. 111, Notes.

[1] See R.L. Greene, The Early English Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), xxxi-xxxiii.

[1] The manuscript text of Nou sprinkes is badly damaged. Missing letters, here and in other poems, are indicated by square brackets.

[1] Compare Nicholette Zeeman, in her “Imaginative Theory,” in Middle English, ed. Paul Strohm, Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 222-40. Zeeman finds the poems a figure for “the assumed delights and ‘playfulness’” of song itself (228).

[1] For the text, see Karl Bartsch, ed., Romances et pastourelles françaises des XIIe et XIIIe siècles (Leipzig, 1870; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftlische Buchgesellschaft, 1967), Section 2, No. 7. Paden prints another version with different opening line. See Paden, The Medieval Pastourelle, No. 117.

[1] Michel Zink, La pastourelle: Poésie et folklore au Moyen Age (Paris: Bordas, 1972), 99.

[1] See Klinck, Voices, No. 112, Notes.

[1] See Klinck, Voices, No. 113, Notes.

[1] Rosemary Woolf, “The Construction of ‘In a fryht as y con far fremede,’” Medium Aevum 38 (1969): 55.

[1] John W. Conlee, ed. Middle English Debate Poetry: A Critical Anthology (East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1991), 296.

[1] On luxurious clothing see Sarah-Grace Heller, “The Lexicon of Apparel in the Pastourelle Corpus: Refashioning Shepherdesses,” in Refashioning Medieval and Early Modern Dress: A Tribute to Robin Netherton, ed. Gale R. Owen-Crocker and Maren Clegg Hyer (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2019), 175-190. Often finery is offered to the maiden as a tactic of seduction, but occasionally it is worn in the pastourelle encounter, for instance in As I stod on a day; In somer quhen flouris will smell, discussed below, features a maiden wearing a rich rosary.

[1] Ms me; myhti. See Harley 2253, folios. 66v-67r. These words appear in the 9th manuscript line of 67r.

[1] Klinck, Voices, Nos. 115 and 116; Sharon Jansen and Kathleen H. Jordan, eds. The Welles Anthology: MS Rawlinson C.813. A Critical Edition (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, SUNY, 1991), Nos. 48 and 50.

[1] It is included in Child’s massive collection of ballads; see Frances James Child, ed., The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. 5 vols. in 10 parts (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1882-98), No. 111 (2.478-79).

[1] Jansen and Jordan, The Welles Anthology, 30.

[1] Carissa M. Harris, “Rape Narratives, Courtly Critique, and the Pedagogy of Sexual Negotiation in the Middle English Pastourelle,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 46 (2016): 278-279.

[1] In secreit place this hyndir nycht, 10 (townysche); in The Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Priscilla Bawcutt (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, University of Glasgow, 1998), 2 vols., No. 25. For a sociological exploration of “townish” in its range of meanings, see Theo van Heijnsbergen, “The Bannatyne Manuscript Lyrics: Literary Convention and Authorial Voice,” in The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993, eds. Graham Caie, Roderick J. Lyall, Sally Mapstone, and Kenneth Simpson (East Linton, East Lothian, Scotland: Tuckwell, 2001), 423-44.

[1] National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Advocates 1.1.6, ff. 134rv (pp. 327-28), 141rv (pp. 341-42) and 143rv (pp. 345-46), resp. The Bannatyne MS is edited in W. Tod Ritchie, ed., The Bannatyne Manuscript written in tyme of pest 1568, 4 vols, Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1928-34; New York: Johnson, 1972). See Ritchie, 3.6-8 (All to lufe, and not to fenyie), 3. 26-32 (In somer quhen flouris will smell), 3.32-34 (I met my lady weil arrayit).

[1] Magdalene College, Cambridge, Pepys 2553, p. 190 (Ane fair sweit may), and pp. 205, 303-305 (Still undir the levis). The Maitland Folio is edited in W. A. Craigie, ed., The Maitland Folio Manuscript, 2 vols, Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1919). See Craigie, 194 (Ane fair sweit may), 360-64 (Still undir the levis).

[1] On the three styles, see Bawcutt, Dunbar the Makar (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), 347-82.

[1] On this subject, see A. A. MacDonald, “Lyrics in Middle Scots,” in A Companion to the Middle English Lyric, ed. Thomas G. Duncan (Cambridge: Brewer, 2005), 261. The Scottish Parliament accepted the Protestant faith in 1560.

[1] See Aberdeen City Records Office, Sasines Register 2 (for the years 1502-1507). Edited in Helena M. Shire and Alexander Fenton, “The Sweepings of Parnassus. Four Poems Transcribed from the Records Book of the Burgh Saisines of Aberdeen.” Aberdeen University Review 36 (1955-56): 43-54..

[1] Evelyn Newlyn, “The Female Voice in Sixteenth-Century Scots Poetry,” in Older Scots Literature, ed. Sally Mapstone (Edinburgh: Donald, 2005), 291.

[1] Shire and Fenton, 47. The so-called goliards—i.e., the persons who authored the kind of playful Latin verse (erotic, bibulous, and in other ways irreverent) preserved in the 13th-century Carmina Burana manuscript)—were formerly thought to be dissolute wandering scholars, but this view is based on generalising from a single poem, the Confession of Golias (Carmina Burana 191), by the anonymous author known as the Archpoet. It is more probable that this recreational poetry was composed by typical clerics of settled life. On Golias and the goliards, see the Introduction to E.D. Blodgett and Roy Arthur Swanson, eds. and trans., Love Songs of the Carmina Burana, Garland Library of Medieval Literature, vol 49, series B (New York: Garland, 1987), ix-xvii.

[1] On this poem see Harris, Obscene Pedagogies, 134-37.

[1] See Keely Fisher, “Comic Verse in Older Scots” (Ph.D. diss., St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, 1999), 49.

[1] For the biographical evidence, see The Poems of Robert Henryson, ed. Denton Fox (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), xii-xxi; The Poems of William Dunbar, ed. Bawcut, 1-3.

[1] Advocates 1.1.6, ff. 365r-366v (pp. 779-82); edited in Fox, 175-79.

[1] Michael G Cornelius, “Robert Henryson’s Pastoral Burlesque ‘Robene and Makyne’ (c. 1470),” Fifteenth-Century Studies 28 (2003): 80-96.

[1] See, inter alia, William Paden, The Medieval Pastourelle, nos. 37 and 47.

[1] Advocates 1.1.6 (Bannatyne), ff. 103v-104r (pp. 268-69); Pepys 2553 (Maitland), pp. 308, 311; and see Bawcutt, No. 25, Notes.

[1] There are earlier uses of the word, dating from the 14th century on; see Harris, “‘It is a brotherhood’: Obscene Storytelling and Fraternal Community in Fifteenth-Century Britain and

Today,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 41 (2019): 249-76.

[1] See Bawcutt, No. 25, Notes; Glossary.

[1] Bawcutt, No. 16.


pastourelle, medieval, English, Scottish