, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 641–649

New Light on the Author of the Twenty-Four Poems in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby 102

Open Access


The twenty-four poems preserved in MS Digby 102 are anonymous. Josef Kail, their first editor, in 1904 drew a profile of the author that has remained unchallenged for more than a century. Over the years, Kail’s conclusions were copied virtually without comment in anthologies and incidental thematic publications on individual poems. In 2009 two new critical editions of the complete sequence appeared virtually simultaneously and wholly independently from each other. One is by Helen Barr, the other I wrote as my doctoral thesis (Verheij 2009). On the subject of the identity of the author of the Digby poems we reached very nearly identical conclusions, albeit along wholly different lines. In this paper, which draws extensively from my thesis, I propose to deal in some detail with only my line of argument, Helen Barr’s conclusions of course receiving due recognition. I examine in close detail the poet’s profile as drawn by Kail of ‘a priest, most probably an abbot or a prior’, who ‘as such … occupied a seat in parliament and voted with the Commons’. In succession, all possible parliamentary roles for the writer are considered and dismissed. Internal thematic indications combined with external evidence of certain historical occurrences then lead to an alternative profile of a poet who worked and lived in close proximity to the Westminster centre of political power.


Middle English Religious verse Devotional verse Moral criticism Digby poems Parliamentary history Lancastrian kings Benedictine Order 


  1. Barr, H. (Ed.). (1993). The Piers Plowman tradition. A critical edition of ‘Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede’, ‘Richard the Redeless’, ‘Mum and the Sothsegger’, and ‘The Crowned King’. London: Orion Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  2. Barr, H. (Ed.). (2009). The Digby Poems. A new edition of the lyrics. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.Google Scholar
  3. Benson, L. D. (Ed.). (1988). The Riverside Chaucer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, A. L. (1981). Parliament, c. 1377–1422. In R. G. Davies & J. H. Denton (Eds.), The English parliament in the Middle Ages (pp. 109–140). Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, A. L. (1989). The governance of late medieval England 1272–1461. London: Longmans, Green.Google Scholar
  6. Clarke, M. V. (1936). Medieval representation and consent: A study of early Parliaments in England and Ireland, with special reference to the Modus Tenendi Parliamentum. London: Longmans.Google Scholar
  7. Coleman, J. (1981). English literature in history 1350–1400. Medieval readers and writers. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  8. Denton, J. (1981). The clergy and Parliament in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In R. G. Davies & J. H. Denton (Eds.) The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (pp. 88–108). Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Dodd, G. (2006). Changing perspectives: Parliament, poetry and the ‘Civil Service’ under Richard II and Henry IV. Parliamentary history, 25(3), 299–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Giancarlo, M. (2007). Parliament and literature in late medieval England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Goodwin, T. (1704). The history of the reign of Henry the Fifth, king of England, &c. in nine books. London: S. and J. Sprint; also available in ‘Eighteenth Century Collections Online’.Google Scholar
  12. Harvey, B. (1993). Living and dying in England, 1100–1540. The monastic experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  13. Harvey, B. F. (2008). ‘Colchester, William (d. 1420)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Also available from
  14. Kail, J., ed. (1904). Twenty-six political and other poems (including ‘Petty Job’) from the Oxford MSS. Digby 102 and Douce 322. EETS os 124. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. (repr. 2002).Google Scholar
  15. Lewis, N. B. (1933). Re-election to Parliament in the reign of Richard II. The English Historical Review, 48, 364–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lowry, E. C. (1933). Clerical proctors in Parliament and knights of the shire, 1280–1374. The English Historical Review, 48, 443–455.Google Scholar
  17. McGarry, L. (1936). The Holy Eucharist in Middle English homiletic and devotional verse. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America.Google Scholar
  18. McHardy, A. K. (1973). The representation of the English lower clergy in Parliament during the later fourteenth century. In D. Baker (Ed.), Sanctity, secularity: The Church and the world (pp. 97–107). Oxford: B. Blackwell.Google Scholar
  19. Mohl, R. (1933). The three estates in medieval and renaissance literature. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Pearce, E. H. (1916). The monks of Westminster. Being a register of the brethren of the convent from the time of the Confessor to the Dissolution, with lists of the obedientiaries and an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Pearsall, D. (1997). John Lydgate (1371–1449): a bio-bibliography. Victoria, B.C: University of Victoria.Google Scholar
  22. Pollard, A. F. (1926). The evolution of Parliament (2nd ed.). London: Longmans.Google Scholar
  23. Robbins, R. H. (Ed.). (1959). Historical poems of the XIVth and XVth centuries. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Roskell, J. S. (1956). The problem of the attendance of the Lords in medieval parliaments. Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 29, 153–183.Google Scholar
  25. Scattergood, V. J. (1971). Politics and poetry in the fifteenth century. London: Blandford Press.Google Scholar
  26. Verheij, L. J. Ph., ed. (2009). ‘Where of is mad al mankynde’. An edition of and introduction to the twenty-four poems in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 102. Unpublished PhD thesis University Leiden; see

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English Language and CultureLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations