Middle English Seminar Edition

An Edition and Translation of Two Middle English Lyrics:
“Ful Feir Flour” and “Penaunce is in herte”

Introduction, edition, and translation by
Caroline Koppelaar, Anne Irene Vos, Laura Spierings,
Giotto Hak, Niké van Duijkeren, Hedwig van Zon,
Catelijn van Doorn, Jennifer Jansen, Elise Klom,
Iris Roozendaal, Jasper van de Velde, Dorien Zwart

With a preface by
K.A. Murchison

Leiden University



A fourteenth-century depiction of a lily

Introduction to the Edition
Works Cited

Diplomatic Editions
Ful Feir Flour
Penaunce is in herte

The Fairest Flower
Penance is in Heart


In April of 2017, students in my third-year “Middle English Literature and Culture” seminar at Leiden University collectively transcribed two thirteenth-century religious lyrics from Trinity College Cambridge, MS B.14.39 (James no. 323):  “Ful Feir Flour” (fol. 25v) and “Penaunce is in herte” (fol. 27v). The activity had several aims. First, it was undertaken with the goal of making these texts more readily available to the wider medieval community. A secondary, but equally important aim, was to enrich students’ understanding of Middle English language and literature. Finally, the activity was aimed at showcasing, applying, and developing students’ knowledge of New Philology, especially their understanding of what Stephen G. Nichols terms “the manuscript matrix” (40)—the various rich, multifaceted, and inextricably linked levels of the medieval codex—and the challenges involved in representing this aspect of the codex in a critical edition.

This edition has been shared online with the hope of making these short but captivating lyrics available to a wider audience. The first text presented here, “Ful Feir Flour” (DIMEV 1479), was edited first by Carleton Brown in 1932, and again by Karl Reichl in his edition of the Trinity manuscript 1973, but given that the former is increasingly out of date and the latter increasingly unavailable, a new edition seemed appropriate. “Penaunce is in herte” (DIMEV 4359), the second text presented here, was edited by Henry Axel Person in 1953 and again by Reichl in 1973; here, too, a more recent and accessible edition seemed valuable.

The edition was produced in stages over the course of two weeks, including approximately three hours of in-class time. It began with a brief introduction to scribal hands and an optional online transcription practice module that I had designed. As a class, we decided on a transcription policy and students then undertook their own transcriptions of the two texts—without consulting each other or existing editions. The transcriptions were added to a class “wiki” page. At this and all other stages, students had the option of not participating in the online component of the project.

Once the individual transcriptions were complete, students came together in small groups to compare their transcriptions. This was a lively class, and, while circulating to offer informal guidance, I was delighted to hear students share their knowledge with each other—some had previous experience with scribal abbreviations, some had experience reading Latin, and some had excelled in previous studies of historical linguistics. Translations were made on the basis of the completed transcriptions, and then students collaborated, debated, and shared ideas, with the goal of producing more polished texts.edition

The introduction below was written in two stages: first, students signed up to answer a few questions about the lyrics and their manuscript context. At this stage, I encouraged students to choose questions that matched their particular strengths. In the second stage, students worked together to prepare polished answers, and students gave brief, informal, and—at moments—highly-entertaining, presentations on their answers. The introduction below is therefore entirely authored by students.

Since this activity was aimed, in part, at familiarizing students with some of the characteristics of texts in manuscripts—including the “mistakes” that are often omitted in regularized editions—the language and punctuation in this edition have not been regularized. The punctus elevatus has been transcribed as “;”. Expanded abbreviations have been marked using square brackets, line breaks have been introduced, and lines have been numbered to facilitate comparison with the translated text.

Dr. Krista A. Murchison

Lecturer of Medieval English Literature
English Department
Leiden University

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Introduction to the Edition

Description of the Manuscript

Both lyrics edited here survive in only one manuscript: Trinity College Cambridge, MS B.14. 39. The manuscript has been described in detail here.

It is notable that these lyrics appear in the same manuscript as “Of One That Is So Fair And Bright,” “When I Think On Domesday,” “When The Turf Is Thy Tower,” and “I Sing Of One That Is Matchless”, which are all lyrics that thoroughly engage with themes belonging to Christian theology.

“Ful Feir Flour”

Description of the Text

This text is about doing penance and ascending to heaven, where everything is blissful and joyous.

In the second piece of the transcription (ll. 16-29) the writer (or the ‘narrator’) relates how God has taken care of the lily—a simple flower and yet the fairest of all flowers—and explains how this has to be seen as a model for how to love for one another. The text continues with the one of the most important of the Ten Commandments given to the people of Israel by God via the hands and words of Moses: “to love thy neighbour as thyself”. The narrator supports this saying by noting that it is written in the gospels (the first four chapters of the New Testament) that it was done by the twelve apostles (who were chosen by Jesus to follow him as he went around preaching before he was crucified in Jerusalem). It ends with a Latinate phrase, which is part of the following set of Latinate sentences:

Diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo, et in tota anima tua, et in tota mente tua. Diliges proximum tuum sicut te ipsum.

Which translates to:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbour as thyself.

The final part of the transcription seems to be about the fifth leaf and the meaning that it carries. The poem is about a lily with five leaves and the signification of each of the leaves with respect to the Christian faith—much like the pentagram in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.


The Annunciation of Mary and a lily in a vase, depicted on the embroidered binding of a fourteenth-century psalter


Given that it is a religious poem, it may have been used by priests during sermons; although priests often preached in Latin, they would use English to propagate the faith. Priests could have used it to encourage people to do penance.



We think the dialect is the West Midlands dialect for three reasons.

The first one is its manuscript context. We analyzed the text in the context of the manuscript it is bound in: Trinity College Cambridge, MS B.14.39. This manuscript also contains the poems “Of One That is So Fair and Bright” and “When I think of Domesday” which are both featured in Elaine Treharne’s Old and Middle English c. 890-c.1450.

In her introduction to the manuscript in her anthology, Treharne states that “the language in the manuscript may point to an origin in West Worcestershire” (506) which suggests that all the texts may be written in the dialect that was spoken there: that of the West Midlands.

The second reason is the use of certain words throughout the text. Certain words are used that are typical for the West Midlands dialect.

An example of such a word can be found in line 14 of the text, where the word ‘ic’, which means ‘I’, is used. In line 38 ‘dreden’ is used, a verb which means ‘to doubt’. Then there is also the use of the word ‘there’ in line 43, and the multiple instances of the word ‘for’ such as in lines 4,8 and 12. Finally, the word ‘ne’, for example in lines 27 and 35, is frequently used, and ‘nis’ in line 37, which is short for ‘ne is’.

All of these words are typical of the West Midland dialect, and the use of these words in the text show that it was written in a West Midlands dialect.

The third reason is because of multiple grammatical characteristics that belong to the West Midlands. The first one is the personal pronoun ‘hem’ in line 32, which means ‘them’. The second characteristic is the prefix ‘i’ that is used to make the past tense. Examples of this characteristic can be found in line 35 ‘idrive’, in line 41 ‘ileste[n]’ and in line 32 ‘(i)scriue[n]. In line 32 is visible how the ‘i’ in ‘(i)scriue[n]’ has been crossed from the text. The third and last characteristic is the long ‘o’ that appears in West Midlands, which we can see in line 37 ‘alone’.

These are the three reasons that make us think that this text is written in the West Midlands dialect.


The scribe corrected one spelling mistake by adding the omitted ‘on’ above the rest of the text. The line now reads: ‘… þ[er] on oþir’ (l. 9)



We could determine two types of punctuation in the text. Full stops and the punctus elevatus are found in various places throughout the text and always at the end of a sentence.

                               Full stop.                                       Semicolon.


There are multiple uses of abbreviation found in the text. The most common one is the macron over the vowels ‘e’. ‘i’, and ‘u’ to indicate a following ‘n’. Examples, including transcription follow. The images, from Trinity College Cambridge, MS B. 14.39, are used with kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

Macron ‘e’: e[n]. 

Macron ‘i’: þi[n]ne. 

Macron ‘u’: imu[n]de. 

 There’s also a lightning-bolt-like mark over an þ to indicate a missing ‘er’:

Mark over þ: þ[er].

 A mark that’s almost indicative of an apostrophe but more rounded above a p indicates a missing ‘os’’:

Mark over ‘p’: ap[os]tles.

 A a straight line over a ‘c’  indicates a missing ‘ri’:

Mark over ‘c’: c[ri]stene.

 A macron crossing two p’s to indicates missing ‘ro’ and ‘re’.

Macron through p’s: p[ro]p[re].


The text is laid out in two columns and visual markers (in red) are used in order to indicate different paragraphs. No decorations are used in this text. This could have to do with the text type as it is a religious text and these tend not to have as many decorations as romances for instance (Evans 46). According to Murray J. Evans, romances used more decorations than other texts because “compilers/decorators regarded romances as distinct from non romances, and that manuscript readers could therefore use features of layout and decoration, as well as content, to discern this generic difference” (46). Furthermore, he also writes that decorations are used mostly in longer texts, whereas this text is relatively short (46).

Caroline Koppelaar, Anne Irene Vos, Laura Spierings,
Giotto Hak, Niké van Duijkeren, Hedwig van Zon,
Catelijn van Doorn, Jennifer Jansen, Elise Klom,
Iris Roozendaal, Jasper van de Velde, and Dorien Zwart

Leiden University
Middle English Literature Seminar

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Works Cited

Brown, Carleton Fairchild, ed. English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1932. 29-30. Print.

Stephen G. Nichols. “What is a Manuscript Culture? Technologies of the Manuscript Matrix.” The Medieval Manuscript Book: Cultural Approaches. Ed. Michael Johnston and Michael Van Dussen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015. 34-40. Print.

Person, Henry Axel, ed. Cambridge Middle English Lyrics. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1953. 26-7. Print.

Evans, Murray J. Rereading Middle English Romance: Manuscript Layout, Decoration, and the Rhetoric of Composite Structure. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s, 1995. Print.

Karl Reichl, ed. Religiöse Dichtung in Englischen Hochmittelalter: Untersuchung und Edition der Handschrift B.14.39 des Trinity College in Cambridge. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1973.

Treharne, Elaine. “Lyrics from Cambridge, Trinity College, B. 14. 39.” Old and Middle English c. 890 – c. 1400: An Anthology. Ed. Elaine Treharne. 3rd ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 506-507. Print.

Images from Trinity College Cambridge, MS B. 14.39 used with kind permission of the  Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

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