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Title: The Ayenbite of Inwyt (Remorse of Conscience)

Author: active 14th century Dan Michel

active 1279 d'Orléans Laurent

Translator: A. J. Wyatt

Release date: May 1, 2019 [eBook #59399]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Turgut Dincer, Stephen Hutcheson, and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
(This file was produced from images generously made
available by The Internet Archive)


The Ayenbite of Inwyt

Univ. Corr. Coll. Tutorial Series.




A. J. WYATT, M.A.,


London: W. B. CLIVE & CO.
Booksellers Row, Strand, W.C.




Almighty God gave ten behests in the law of the Jews, that Moses received in the hill of Sinai in two tables of stone, that were written with God’s finger. And (Moses) himself, after his burial, commanded in his story to each man that will be saved to keep and observe them. And whoso sinneth in any of the same behests, shall repent thereof, and be shriven, and pray for God’s mercy, if he will be saved.

This book is written for Englishmen, that they may know how they shall shrive themselves and make them clean in this life. This book is called by him who writes Ayenbite of Inwyt. First are the ten behests that all men shall observe.


The first behest that God made and commanded is this: ‘Thou shalt not have many gods;’ that is to say, ‘Thou shalt neither have, nor worship, nor serve any God but Me. And thou shalt not put thy trust but in Me.’ For the same that puts his trust chiefly in a creature, sinneth deadly and acts against this behest. Such are they that worship the idols and make their god of a creature, whatsoever it be.

Against this behest sin those that love their goods too much, gold or silver, or other earthly things. Whosoever sin in these things set their heart and their hope so much 4 that they forget their Creator, and forsake Him who lends them all these goods. And therefore they should serve and thank, and love and worship Him above all things, as this first behest teaches thee.


The second behest is as follows: ‘Thou shalt not take God’s name in vain;’ that is to say, ‘Thou shalt not swear for naught and without good reason,’ which our Lord Himself forbids us in His Gospel, that one should not swear, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by other creature. Yet from good cause one may swear without sin, as in judgment, where one demands oath of truth, or out of judgment from other good cause, and with purity and reason. In no other manner is it right to swear. And, therefore, whosoever swears without reason the name of our Lord, and for naught, if he wittingly swears false he forswears himself, and acts against this behest, and swears deadly, for he swears against conscience, that is to say (understand), when he forswears himself by thought and by long thinking. But he that swears true wittingly, and always for naught or for some bad reason, not wickedly, but lightly and without slander, swears venially. Nevertheless the habit is sinful, and may well turn to deadly sin unless he beware. But he that swears horribly by God or by His saints, and breaks him in pieces, and says slanders about him that are not to be said, the same sins deadly. Nor can he have reason, that he may excuse himself. And he that accustoms himself to swear most, sins most.


The third behest is this: ‘Look that thou hallow the day of the sabbath (Saturday),’ that is to say, thou shalt not do on the day of the sabbath (Saturday) thy business, nor thy works, that thou mightest do on other days. But thou shalt rest thyself in order the better to prepare thyself to pray to and to serve thy Creator, who rested the seventh day from works that He had made in the six days before, in 5 which He made and ordained (ordered) the world. This behest he spiritually fulfils who keeps by his might the peace of his conscience, in order to serve God more holily. Then this word ‘Saturday,’ which the Jews call ‘sabbath,’ signifies (as much as) rest.

This behest can none keep spiritually, that is conscious (in conscience) of deadly sin. For such conscience cannot be at rest the while that she is in such a state. And instead of the sabbath, which was strictly kept in the old law, holy Church sets the Sunday to be kept in the new law, for our Lord arose from death to life on Sunday. And therefore one shall beware and keep free so holily, and be at rest, from works over and above the week; and more from works of sin; and give himself more to spiritual works and to God’s service, and think on his Creator, and pray to Him, and thank Him for His goodness. And whoso breaks the Sunday and the other high feasts that are ordained to be kept in holy Church, sins deadly, for he acts against the aforesaid behest of God and of holy Church, except it be for some business that holy Church allows. But he sins more that spends the Sunday and the feasts in sin, and in whoredom, and in other sins against God. These three behests direct us specially to God.


The fourth behest is this: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, for thou shalt live the longer on the earth.’ This behest admonishes us that we beware that we anger not father nor mother wittingly. And whoso despises his father and his mother wittingly, or slanders them, or angers with evil, sins deadly, and breaks this behest.

In this same behest is understood the honour that we shall bear to our spiritual fathers, that is, to them that have the care of teaching us and of chastising us, such as are the rulers of holy Church, and those that have the care of our souls and of our bodies. And whoso will not bow to them that have the care of him, when they teach the good that one is bound to do, sins deadly; and the disobedience may be such that it is deadly sin.



The fifth behest is this: ‘Thou shalt slay no man.’ This behest forbids that one shall slay another for revenge, or for his goods, or for other wicked reason, for that is deadly sin. Nevertheless to slay evildoers, in order to do and keep right, and for other good reason, (it) is good right by the law to him that shall do it and is bound thereto.

In this behest is forbidden sin of hate, and of wrath, and of great ire. For, as saith the Scripture, he that hateth his brother, he is a man-slayer as to his will, and sins deadly; and he (also) that bears long wrath against others; for such wrath, long held and befolded in the heart, is in wrath and in hate, which is deadly sin and against this behest. And yet sins he more that does or purchases shame or harm to others wrongfully, or is in counsel and in help to cause others to be harmed in order to avenge himself. Nevertheless wrath or contempt, that goes lightly without great will and willingness to harm others, is not deadly sin.


The sixth behest is this: ‘Thou shalt do no whoredom;’ that is to say, thou shalt not desire carnal fellowship with other men’s wives.

In this behest is forbidden us all sin of the flesh, that one calls generally lechery. That is one of the seven deadly sins, though there are some branches that are not deadly sin, as are many motions of the flesh, all of which one cannot flee. And those one shall bring to naught and withdraw from as much as one can, not nourish nor pursue them, either by too much meat or drink, or by evil thoughts too long holden, or by evil handlings. For in such things one may have harm of soul. In this behest is forbidden all sins against nature, in whatever manner they are done, either in his own body or in others.



The seventh behest is this: ‘Thou shalt do no theft.’ This behest forbids us to take and withhold other men’s thing, whatever it be, from wicked cause, against the will of him that owns it.

In this behest is forbidden robbery, theft, stealing, and usury, and unfair dealing with others, in order to have for his own. And he that acts against this behest is bound to give up what he has wrongly of other men’s, if he knows to whom. And if he knows not, he is bound to give it for God’s love, or to act by the advice of holy Church. And he that wrongly withholds other men’s thing for a sinful reason sins deadly, unless he give it up, where he owes, if he knows it and can do it, or unless he acts by the advice of holy Church.


The eighth behest is this: ‘Thou shalt say no false witness against thy fellow-Christian.’

In this behest it is forbidden us that we should lie or forswear ourselves, either in judgment or out of judgment, in order to cause thy fellow-Christian harm; and that one should bring none as a witness in order to impair his (one’s fellow-Christian’s) fame, or his grace that he hath, for that is deadly sin. Against this behest those act that slander good men behind them willingly and wrongfully, which one calls the sin of detraction; and those also that praise the wicked and the deeds of their wickedness and of their follies, known, or seen, or heard. That is sin of flattery or of deceit, when one says it before them; or falsehood or leasings, when he that one speaks of is not present. For all those are false witnesses.


The ninth behest is this: ‘Thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s wife, nor desire her in thy heart.’ That is to say, thou shalt not consent to do sin with thy body.


This behest forbids to desire with will of heart to have carnal fellowship with all women out of marriage; and the sinful tokens that are made outwardly in order to lead to sin, as are sinful words of such a kind, or gifts, or sinful handling. And the difference between this behest and the sixth aforesaid is, that the sixth behest forbids the deed without, but this forbids the consent within. For the consent to have carnal fellowship with a woman (women), who is not his own for a wife, is deadly sin by the judgment of God’s Word, which says: ‘Whoever sees a woman and desires her in his heart, he hath sinned with her in his heart,’ that is to say, in open desire and in thought.


The tenth behest is this: ‘Thou shalt not desire a thing that is thy neighbour’s.’ This behest forbids the will to have other men’s thing(s) for a wicked reason.

In this behest is forbidden envy of other men’s goods, or of other men’s grace. For the same envy comes of sinful covetousness to have the goods or the very grace that he sees in others. And the same covetousness, when the consent and the thoughts [are] thereto, is deadly sin, and against this behest. Nevertheless light covetousness to have other men’s things for a good reason is no sin. And if there is any evil desire, without will and without consent to harm others, it is no sin; and if there is sin, it is light sin.

These are the ten behests, whereof the three first direct us well to God; the other seven direct us to our neighbour. These ten behests are incumbent on each one that hath reason and age, to know and to do. For whoever acts thereagainst wittingly, sins deadly.


These are the twelve articles of the Christian belief, that each Christian man shall believe steadfastly, for otherwise he cannot be saved when he hath wit and reason. And 9 thereof are twelve according to the numbers of the twelve apostles, who appointed them to be observed and to be kept by all those that will be saved. The first, then, belongs to the Father, the next seven (seventh) to the Son, the last four (fourth) to the Holy Ghost; for that is the beginning of the belief, ‘believe in the Holy Trinity;’ that is, in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God and three persons. All these articles are contained in the creed, that the twelve apostles made, whereof each ordained his own.

The first article is this: ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and of earth.’ This article St. Peter ordained.

The second article belongs to the Son, as to His Godhead; that is to say, that He is God, and is this: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, the Son of God the Father, and (He) is one with the Father in all things that appertain to the Godhead, but, with regard to the person, who is other than the person of the Father.’ This article St. John the Evangelist ordained.

The third article and the fifth, that follows after, belong to the Son as to His manhood; that is to say, as He is mortal man. Then in the third article is contained, that He was conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the maid Mary. By which it is to be understood that He was conceived in the maid Mary by the deed and by the virtue of the Holy Ghost, and not at all by deed of man. And the maid Mary remained ever maid and whole before and after. This article St. James, St. John’s brother, ordained.

The fourth article belongs to His passion; that is to say, that He suffered death under Pontius Pilate, who was a pagan, and judge at that time in Jerusalem, by the Romans. Under that judge was Jesus Christ condemned wrongfully at the command of three wicked Jews, and crucified, and dead, and placed in a tomb. This article St. Andrew ordained.

The fifth article is as follows: that He went into hell after His death, in order to lead out thence and to deliver the souls of the holy fathers, and of all those that, from the beginning of the world, died in true and good belief, and 10 in hope that they should be saved by Him, because of the sin of the first man. It behoved that all should go into hell and abide there, the good in sure hope that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, should come to deliver them, according as He had promised by His prophets. And for that reason would He after His death go into hell, that is to say, on that side where the saints were, not on that side where were the lost, who were dead in their sin and in their unbelief. And those He led not out, for they are lost for evermore. This article St. Philip ordained.

The sixth article is of His resurrection, to wit, that the third day after His death, in order to fulfil the Scriptures, He arose from death to life, and showed Himself to His disciples, and proved His resurrection to them in many ways for forty days. This article St. Thomas ordained.

The seventh article is, that the fortieth day after His resurrection, when He had eaten with His disciples, He ascended before them quite openly into heaven, who is above every creature that is in heaven, unto the right hand of God the Father, where He made Him [sit]. This article St. Bartholomew ordained.

The eighth article is, that He shall come at the day of judgment to judge the dead and the living, the good and the bad, and render to each according as he hath deserved in this world. These are the articles that belong to the Son. This article St. Matthew, the evangelist, ordained.

The ninth article and the three last belong to the Holy Ghost, and is this: ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost.’ This article requires that one believe that the Holy Ghost is the gift and love of the Father and of the Son, from whom comes all the good of grace, and that He is one God, and one with the Father and the Son, except the person, which is other than the person of the Father and of the Son. This article St. James, St. Simon’s and St. Jude’s brother, ordained.

The tenth article is this: ‘I believe (in) the holy Catholic Church and the communion of saints;’ that is to say, the fellowship of all the saints, and of all the good men that are, and shall be unto the end of the world, and were since the beginning, together in the faith of Jesus 11 Christ. And in this article are understood the seven sacraments that are in holy Church, to wit, christening, confirming, the sacrament of the altar, orders, marriage, the holy shrift, and the last anointing. This article St. Simon ordained.

The eleventh is, to believe the forgiveness of sins, that God gives by the virtue of His holy sacraments that are in holy Church. This article St. Jude ordained.

The twelfth article is, to believe the general resurrection of the body, and the life without end, that is the bliss of Paradise, which God shall give to them that have deserved it by good faith and by good works. This article gives (us) to understand its contrary, that is, the torment without end that God hath prepared for the lost. This article shall be understood in such a manner, that each, be he good, be he bad, shall be at the day of judgment raised from death to life in his own body, wherein he shall have [lived], and receive his reward in body and in soul, according as he has deserved in this life. And therefore shall the good at that day in body and in soul be in life without end, and the wicked lost evermore in body and in soul. This article St. Matthew ordained.


My lord, St. John, in the book of his visions, which is called the Apocalypse, so says that he saw a beast that came out of the sea wonderfully adorned and exceedingly dreadful. For the body of the beast was as a leopard, the feet were of a bear, the throat of a lion, and it had seven heads and ten horns, and upon the ten horns ten crowns; and St. John saw that the same evil beast had power of himself to fight with the saints, and to overcome and to overmaster them. This same beast, so wonderful and so counterfeited and dreadful, betokens the devil, who came out of the sea of hell, which is full of all sorrow and of all bitterness. The body of the beast, as St. John says, was so like the leopard because, as the leopard hath divers colours, so hath the devil divers modes of watching and of 12 dispute, in order to beguile and to tempt folk. The feet were like the feet of a bear, for as the bear, which hath its strength in its feet and in its arms, holds strongly and binds what it hath under its feet, what it embraces, just so does the devil them that he hath embraced and overthrown by sin. The throat was of a lion, because of his great cruelty, that will devour all.


The seven heads of the beast of hell are the seven capital sins by which the devil draws to himself also all the world. For scarcely it befalls that one falls not into the throat of some of the seven heads, and therefore St. John says well that it had power against the saints. For on earth is no man so holy that he can perfectly escape all the kinds of sin that come of these seven heads without special privilege of grace, as it was in the maid Mary, or in some others by special grace, which they had of God. The ten horns of the beast betoken the offences against the ten behests of our Lord, which the devil obtains, as much as he can, by the seven aforesaid sins. The ten crowns above betoken the victory that it (he) hath over all the sinful, because he causes them to sin against the ten behests.


The first head of the beast of hell is pride; the second is envy; the third, wrath; the fourth, sloth, which one calls in book-lore, indolence; the fifth, itching—in book-lore, avarice, or covetousness; the sixth, gluttony; the seventh, lechery, or luxury. Of these seven heads comes every kind of sin, and therefore they are called capital sins, because they are the head of all evil and of all sins, and the beginning of all evil, be they deadly, be they venial. Then each of the same seven divides into many divisions, and first we will talk of the sin of pride, because that was the first sin and the beginning of all evil. For pride first broke fellowship and order, when Lightbearer (Lucifer) the angel, because of his great beauty and his great wit, would 13 be above the other angels, and would make himself equal to God, who had made him so fair and so good, and therefore he fell from heaven and became a devil, both he and all his fellowship. All the proud, who fellowship and order of men destroy and break, are like him, when they will be above others, and be more famed and praised than any other that are more worthy.


This sin of pride is too dreadful, for it (she) blinds men, so that they themselves neither know nor see; it is a very strong and a very special aid to the devil, whereby he beguiles the high men, and the fair, and the rich, and the wise, and the hardy, and the honourable, and generally every manner of folk, but especially the great lords, so that they themselves neither know nor see their misdeeds, nor their follies, nor their faults (read wytes); then is it the most perilous sickness of (all) others. Forsooth he is in great peril, to whom every remedy turns into venom, as do teaching and chastisement to the proud. For the more one reproves and blames and chastises him the more angry he is and the more weary he becomes.

Pride is the devil’s own daughter, who has a great share in his nature. Pride wars against God because of His goodness, and God throws down pride and wars against it. Pride is king of wicked habits. It (she) is the lion that devours all. Pride destroys all the goodness and all the graces and all the good works that are in man. For pride makes of alms sin, and of virtues vices, and by good works, whereby one should buy heaven, it makes us win hell.

This sin is the first that assails the knight our Lord, (and) whom it is the last to leave, for when He hath all other evils overcome, then pride assails Him the more strongly.


This sin divides and spreads into so many parts that one can scarcely reckon them. But seven principal divisions 14 there are, which are as seven boughs, which go out, and are born of a wicked root.

The first bough, then, of pride is untruth; the second, contempt; the third, overweening, which we call presumption; the fourth, over-boldness, which we call ambition; the fifth, vainglory; the sixth, hypocrisy; the seventh, wicked dread. To these seven divisions belong all the sins that are born of pride. But each of these seven boughs has many small twigs.

The first bough of pride, which is untruth, divides itself into three little boughs, whereof the first is bad, the second worse, the third worst of all. The one is crime, the second madness, the third apostasy. Crime generally is in every sin, for no sin is without crime, and so begin all sins by crime. But the crime that we speak of here specially, which comes of pride, is a kind of untruth, is a vice, that is called in book-lore ingratitude; that is, forgetfulness of God and of His gifts, that one thanks Him not as one should do, nor yields Him thanks for His gifts that He hath given us.

Forsooth, he is indeed a villain and untrue towards his Lord, who hath done him all good, and he does not thank Him, but forgets, and yields Him evil for good, and villainy for courtesy. The same villainy doth man to God when he bethinks him not of the gifts that God hath given him, and gives him always, and thanks Him not, but rather often opposes Him in that which he uses wickedly and against God’s will.

That is very great villainy, as it appears to me, that he (should) receive great goodness and not deign to say great thanks. And yet it is greater when one forsakes Him, or when one forgets Him. But the same is too great, when each day he receives the goodnesses, and each day yields evil for good.

He then that thinks well, and often considers the gifts which God hath given him, and gives always, and that he has no good thing which God has not given him, neither gifts of nature, as fairness and health and strength of body, and sleight and natural wit as regards the soul; nor gifts of chance, as riches, honour, and nobility; nor gifts of grace, 15 as are virtues and good works, well should he thank God for all His good things; for one goodness demands another.

The second untruth that comes of pride is madness. One holds a man mad who is out of his wits, in whom reason is gone astray. Then the same grows right foolish and gone astray and well called mad, that wittingly and boldly the goods, that are not his but his Lord’s goods—whereof it behoves him strictly to yield reckoning and account, to wit, the goods of such great price and the temporal goods that he hath in custody, the virtues of the body, and the thoughts, and the consents, and the wills of the souls—wastes and spends in follies and in excesses before the eyes of his Lord, and provides not for his reckoning and knows well that it behoves him to reckon, and knows not when, neither the day nor the hour. Such folly is well called witlessness. Of such vices the great proud men are full, that use wickedly the great goods that God has lent them.

The third untruth that comes of pride is apostasy. He is indeed an apostate that puts the land that he holds of his Lord into the hand of the enemy, and does him homage. Such sin makes him who sins mortal, for then, as much as in him lies, he does homage to the devil, and becomes his thrall, and yields him all that he holds of God, both body and soul and other good things, which he places at the service of the devil. And although he be by his saying a Christian, he denies by deed and shows that he is not. But especially in three ways, is a man called an apostate and false Christian, either because he believes not what he should, as does the Bulgar, and the heretic, and the apostate, who deny their belief; or because he sins against the belief that he believes, as do the perjured and the liars of the belief; or believes more than he should, as do the diviners and the witches and the sorceresses, who work by the devil’s power. And all those that in such things believe and put their trust, sin deadly. For all such things are against the belief, and therefore holy Church forbids them. These are the kinds of untruth, which is the first bough of pride.



The second bough that comes out of the stock of pride (so) is contempt (despite), which is a very great sin. And though it be so, that no deadly sin is without contempt of God, always by that which we here specially call contempt, by this sin one may sin in three ways: either because one praises not others aright in heart as one should, or because one shows not honour and reverence where one should, or because one obeys not aright them that one should rightfully obey.

Now, think right well in thy heart how often thou hast done the same sin that thou hast in thy heart, despisest those that are more worthy than thou because of some external graces that God hath given thee, either because of nobility, or prowess, or riches, or wisdom, or fairness, or other gifts, whatever they may be; wherefore thou praisest thyself more than thou shouldst, and others less.

Afterwards, think how many times thou hast shown little honour and reverence to whom thou shouldst (have shown them); first to God, and to His mother, and to His saints, and to the angels of heaven. For there is none against whom thou hast not sinned in contempt (despite), or by the contempt that thou hast oftentimes evilly and badly kept their feasts.

After that, think how many times thou hast misserved our Lord Jesu Christ, either in this, that thou hast not joyfully heard His service, nor said His prayers, nor heard sermons; and when thou shouldst hear His mass or His sermon at church, thou chatteredst and jestedst before God, and in that thou showedst Him little honour.

Afterwards (think) how thou hast many times shown little honour to the body of Jesu Christ when thou sawest it or when thou receivedst it, in that thou wast not worthily prepared by shrift and by repenting, or perchance, what is worse, that thou wittingly receivest in deadly sin, which is great contempt (despite).

Afterwards, to thy sweet fellow, and to thy good guardian, thine angel, who always guards thee: how many 17 shames thou hast done him, in that thou didst thy sins before him.

Afterwards, think how many times thou hast been disobedient to thy father and to thy mother, and to those to whom thou shouldst be obedient and show honour. If thou wilt in this manner call to mind thy life, thou shalt see that thou hast sinned more times in such kind of pride as is called contempt (despite) than (that not) thou canst reckon.


The third bough of pride is arrogance, which one calls overweening or presumption, when the man thinks more of himself than he should; that is to say, that thinks he is worth more than he is, or that he can do more than he can, or that he knows more than he does, or thinks that he is worth more, or more able, or more knowing than any other. This sin is the strength of the devil, for it protects and nourishes all the great spiritual sins. This sin shows itself in many ways, either by deed or by speech, but especially in six ways; to wit, in singularity, for the proud and the presumptuous thinks that he is more worthy and knows more than any others, and deigns not to do as others that are more worthy than he is, but rather will be singular in his deeds. That is the first sin by which overweening is (shown) in deed.

The second is foolish undertaking of great expense, which one calls prodigality, when he doth too much spending, either of his own or of other men’s, in order to be praised, and therefore that one should hold him (to be) the more liberal and the more courteous.

The third evil that comes of overweening is foolish undertaking of false strife, as Solomon says; that is to say, whoever takes a false strife in hand, and knows well that it is false, and follows it.

The fourth twig of the same bough, whereby the proud shows the pride of his heart, is boasting, which is a very foul sin both to God and to the world. The boaster is the cuckoo, which cannot sing, but of himself. This sin is 18 found (bound) in him who by his own mouth boasts, either of his wit, or of his kin, or of his works, or of his prowess. But it (the sin) doubles itself in those whom the boaster and the liar seeks, and counsels, and gives them of his own, for them to praise and to say of him (them) what he (they) dare not say, and to lie concerning him (them), and to boast his (their) nobility.

The fifth offshoot of the same stock is scorn. For that is the wont of the proud overweener, that it is not enough for him to despise in his heart the others that have not the graces that he thinks he has, but makes his mockings and his scorns, and, what is worse, mocks and scorns the good men, and (of) those that he sees turn to good, which is very great sin and very dreadful. But by their evil tongues they turn aside much folk from doing well.

The sixth offshoot of the same bough is withstanding. That is when the man withstands all them that would do him good. For the proud overweener, if one reproves him, he excuses himself, if one chastens him he is wroth, if one advises him well he believes none but his own wit. It is a perilous sickness when one cannot endure that one may teach him, and to whom all medicines turn into venom.


The fourth bough of pride is foolish desire, which one calls in book-learning ambition; that is, an evil desire to climb high. This sin is the devil’s pan of hell, wherein he makes his fryings. This bough spreads in many ways right and left. For he that desires to climb high, (to) some he will please, and therefrom grow many sins, as on the right hand to wit, deceit, simulation, giving foolishly, in order that one shall esteem him courteous and liberal. (To) others he will harm, and therefrom comes the sin on the left side, as to slander them whom he will harm in order to exalt himself, and raises up blame for him and desires the death of that (man), who holds what he weens to come into, and frauds, and evil counsel, conspiracies, strife, and many other sins, that grow out of this evil bough.



The fifth bough of pride is idle bliss; that is, foolish liking of foolish praise, when he feels in his heart knowingly that he is, or weens to be, praised for something that he has in him, or weens to have, and will be praised therefore, for which he should praise God. And therefore idle bliss robs God, and steals what is His. For of all our goods He shall have the honour and the praise, and we the gain.

Idle bliss is the great wind that throws down the great towers and the high steeples, and throws to the ground the great beeches in woods, and makes the great hills to quake, which are the high men and (those) that are most worthy. That is the devil’s penny, wherewith he buys all the fair pennyworths in the market of this world, which are the good works. And because there are three kinds of goods that man hath of God, and that the devil wall buy with his pence, therefore this bough divides into three kinds of small boughs, whereof grows every kind of sin, which no clerk can tell. The same three kinds of goods that one has of God are the gifts of nature, the gifts of hap, the gifts of grace. The natural gifts are those that one calls ‘by nature,’ either as to the body or as to the soul; as regards the body, as health, fairness, strength, prowess, nobility, good tongue, good speech; as regards the soul, as clear wit to understand well, and subtle wit to devise well, good memory to retain well, and the virtues of nature, whereby one is more natural than another, or more liberal, or meeker, or more gracious, or contented and well ordered. For all these gifts one shall thank and serve God, because they all come from Him. Nevertheless the proud sells them to the devil for the false penny of idle bliss, and often wars against God for all His gifts, for which he should thank God. And whoever takes good heed [may see that] in all these gifts of nature that I have briefly told, it is sin by idle bliss in too many ways, which each may better see in himself, if he will study well, than others can tell him.

The gifts of hap are exalted stations, riches, delights, and 20 prosperities, whereof one thinks in many ways. For when the lady of hap has turned her wheel to the man, and raised and set (him) to the height of her wheel, like the mill to the wind, and (he has) climbed high there, there blow all the twelve winds of idle bliss. For when he that is arisen so high in prosperity thinks in his heart first of the dignity, afterwards of his prosperity, after that of his riches, afterwards of his lusts that his body has, after that of the great fellowship that follows him, afterwards of the fair company that serves him, after that of his fair manner, afterwards of his fair ridings, afterwards of the plenty of fair robes, after that of the adorning of his house with lustful ease and other kinds of equipment, (so) that so much is fair and noble, afterwards of the great presents and of the great feasts that one makes him everywhere, after that of his good fame, and of his praises, that fly everywhere. Thus the wretch rejoices and glories in his heart, so that he knows not where he is. These are the gifts that come of idle bliss, (that is) to wit, twelve kinds of temptation of idle bliss, which those in high estate have, either in the world or in religion, either cleric or layman.

The gifts of grace are virtues and good works. And against these gifts idle bliss often blows the more strongly, and often fells the great trees and the highest, which are the best men. And [thou] shalt know that in virtues and in good works the devil tempts by idle bliss in three ways. The one is within in the heart, when one hears of the good things that one does privily, as of prayers or of privy works, and the man thinks that he is better with God than he is. The second is when he has a foolish bliss in him because he hears or sees of his good renown, and that he is praised and holden for a good man. The third is when he desires and seeks and obtains fame and renown, and in such understanding doth his good deeds, not for God properly, but for the world.


The sixth bough of pride is hypocrisy, which is a sin that makes one show the good without that is not within. 21 Those, then, are hypocrites who pretend to be good men and are not, who pretend to have more strength than name of good man, than truth and holiness. And this (bough) divides (herself) in three. For there is an hypocrisy foul, and another foolish, and the third subtle. Those are foul hypocrites who do their foul deeds in corners and show themselves good before the people. Such our Lord calls painted and gilded sepulchres. Those are foolish hypocrites who keep themselves cleanly enough as regards the body, and do many and good penances principally for the fame of the world, because one holds them to be good men. Those are indeed fools, for of good metal they make false money. Those are subtle hypocrites who subtlely will climb up and steal the dignities and the kingdoms. They do all that a good man shall do, so that no man can know them until (then that) they are full grown and climbed high in dignities. And then show they the evils that were hidden and rooted in the heart, to wit, pride, avarice, malice, and other evil deeds, whereby one knows openly that the tree never was good, and that it was all deceit and hypocrisy, all that he had before showed. Therefore it is truly said: ‘Thou shalt never know what man is, until he is where he wishes to be.’


The seventh bough of pride is foolish dread and foolish shame, when one ceases to do well because of the world, that one be not held a hypocrite or a canter, where one dreads the world more than God. The same shame comes of sinful pleasing, by which one wishes to please the sinful. And therefore chiefly is she daughter of pride and the seventh bough, and often makes (men) cease to do the good and do the evil, in order sinfully to please the world.


The second head of the wicked beast is envy, which is the adder that poisons all. Envy is mother to death, for by the envy of the devil came death into the world; it is 22 the sin which most immediately makes man like the devil his father. For the devil hates not but others’ good, and loves not but others’ harm, and so does the envious. The envious man cannot see the good of others, any more than the owl or the bat (can see) the brightness of the sun. The same sin divides chiefly into three boughs. For the same sin envenoms first of all the heart of the envious, and afterwards the mouth, and afterwards the works. The heart of the envious is envenomed and goes astray, so that he cannot see other men’s good without repenting within his heart and judging evilly, and what he sees or what he hears takes it in a bad sense, and of all makes (his) harm, so much (so) that to the heart of the envious [come] venomous thoughts of false judgment, that one cannot tell (them). Afterwards, when the envious hears or sees other men’s ill, whatever it be, either ill of body, as death or sickness, or ill of chance (hap), as poverty or adversity, or spiritual ill, as when he hears that some, that one held good men, are blamed for some vice. At such things he rejoices in his heart. Afterwards, when he sees or hears the good of others, be it good of nature, or good of hap, or good of grace, whereof we have spoken above, then there comes a sorrow to his heart, so that he cannot be at rest, nor make gladness, nor fair pretence. Now, thou canst see that the venomous heart of the envious sins generally in three ways: in false judgments, in wicked gladness, in worse sorrows; he sins also by the mouth. For it behoves that such wine as there is in the tun should run by the tap. And because the heart was full of venom, it behoves that it leap out by the mouth. Then from the mouth of the envious come out three kinds of venomous words, whereof David speaks in the Psalter, ‘The mouth of the envious is full of cursing, and of bitterness, and of treason.’ Of cursing, for the goods of others he defames, and depreciates them as much as he can. Of bitterness, for the ills of others he exaggerates and increases according to his might. Of treason, for all that he sees or hears, he turns it to ill and judges it falsely. Afterwards, the envious has three kinds of venom indeed, as he hath in mouth and in heart; for the nature of the 23 envious is to withdraw and destroy all good by his might, be it little, be it less, be it perfected. He is then of the nature of the basilisk, for no greenness can last before him, either in grass, or in bush, or in tree. Then, according to the Gospel, corn has three states, for it is first as in grass, afterwards in the ear, afterwards is full of fruit and quite ripe. And so there are some that have a good beginning, in order to live well and to profit, and are as in grass; the same the envious takes pains to quench if he can. Others are as in the ear, which flowers well in goodness and by it is profitable to God or to the world; and the envious rebels in order to confound and to destroy those by his might. The others are perfect and in great state, and do much good to God and to the world. Their good fame to abate and their goodness to depreciate the envious prepares all his devices. For the greater that the goodness is, the more the envious sorrows. This sin is so perilous, that one can scarcely come to right repentance, because it (she) is contrary to the Holy Ghost, who is the well of all good. And God says in His Gospel, that whoever sins against the Holy Ghost (he) shall never have mercy in this world nor in the other, for he sins of his own wickedness, and one must in that wholly understand (it so). For there is no sin so great that God does not forgive in this world, if man repents and prays for mercy for the sin, that wars by its might against the grace of the Holy Ghost, in that it wars against other men’s spiritual good, as the Jews opposed Jesu Christ for the good things that He did.


And thou shalt know that there are six sins that are specially against the Holy Ghost; to wit, overweening, which makes the mercy of our Lord spread too much, and praises His righteousness little, and therefore many people sin in hope. The second is despair, which robs God of His mercy, as overweening (does) of His righteousness. The third is withstanding, that is, hardness of heart, when man is hardened in his wickedness, so that one cannot turn him, and he will not amend. The fourth is contempt of 24 penance; that is, when man ordains in his heart that he shall not repent of his sin. The fifth is to oppose the grace of the Holy Ghost in others. The sixth is to oppose truth wittingly, and especially the truth of the Christian belief. All these sins are against the goodness of the Holy Ghost, and are so great that (they) hardly come to right repentance, and therefore hardly are they forgiven.


The third head of the beast is hate. But thou shalt know that there is one hate, which is virtue, which the good man hath against evil; another, which is very great sin, that is fierceness of heart, wherefrom come many boughs, and chiefly four, (which) are the four wars that the felon hath. The first is with himself, for when man bears (him) hate to the torment (read of) soul and body, so that man cannot sleep nor have any rest, sometimes it deprives him of meat and drink and makes him fall into a fever, or into such sorrow that he receives death. That is a fire that wastes all the goods of the house. The second war that the felon hath is with God. For wrath and felony so support and seize sometimes the heart of the fierce one, because of some temporal adversity, or sickness, or death of friends, or some misfortune, when his will is not done, that he murmurs against our Lord, and thanks God ill and His saints, and swears and blasphemes against God and His saints. The third war that the wrathful hath is with those that are under him, that is, with his wife and with his household; for the man is sometimes so out of his wits that he beats and smites both wife and children and household, and breaks pots and cups as if he were out of his wits; and so he is. The fourth is war outside with his neighbours and with his nearest, that are all about him. And from this bough grow seven small boughs. For when wrath arises between two men there is first chiding, and then wrath that remains in the heart, afterwards wrath, afterwards strife often comes, afterwards desire of vengeance, afterwards sometimes manslaughter, and afterwards sometimes deadly war between the friends, whereof often comes 25 too much evil, and perils that cannot be amended. For when there is war between two men, it often befalls that there are many people dead who have no guilt, churches broken down, towns burnt up, abbeys, priories, barns destroyed, and men and women and children disinherited and exiled, and lands destroyed, and too much other harm, which is done by reason of those who are bound to amend what this brings, both the lord and all those that are helping him (them), and (concerned) in such a business, and therefore they are in great peril of their health of soul, for they may not be able to amend or give up the harm that they have done, and it behoves them to give it up or to be hanged.


The fourth head of the wicked beast is sloth, that is, idleness and disinclination to do well. This sin is too evil a root, that casts many evil boughs. This idleness, which is sloth, makes a man have evil beginning, and more evil amending, and worse ending. Evil beginning has the slothful through six sins. The first is thinness, when the man loves our Lord little and lukewarmly, whom he should love ardently, and therefrom it comes that he is feeble and lukewarm to do all good things. The second is timidity, that is, disinclination of heart, which is the devil’s bed, wherein he rests himself, and says to the man and to the woman: ‘Thou hast been too softly drawn forth, thou art too feeble in constitution, thou canst not do the great penances, thou art too tender, thou wouldst very soon be dead;’ and therefore the wretch lets himself fall to do the lusts of his flesh. The third is idleness, which is a sin that causes much evil, as says the Scripture. For when the devil finds the man idle he puts him to work, and causes him first to think evil, and afterwards to desire villainies, ribaldries, lecheries, and to lose his time and many good things that he might do, whereby he might win paradise. The fourth is heaviness, when the man is so heavy that he loveth not but to lie and rest and sleep: sometimes they are 26 necessarily so long (enough) awake, that they had rather lose four masses than a sweat or a sleep. The fifth is wickedness, that is when the man lies in sin, and feels the temptations of the devil and of his flesh that assail him, and through downright wickedness will not raise the head to God in sorrow, nor cry ‘Harou!’ (Norman cry for assistance) in shrift, nor raise the hands in satisfaction (amends). The same is like the wretch that would rather rot in a foul and stinking prison than have the torment of steps to climb for his outgoing. The sixth is little will (inertness). In this sin are those that have dread for naught, that dare not begin to do well because they have dread that God will fail them, which is the dread of the dreamers who have dread of their dreams. They are like him that dare not go in the path because of the snail which shows him his horns, and like the child that dare not go his way because of the goose that blows.

These are the six vices that rob the man of good beginning. Because of six other vices the slothful cannot have good beginning or amendment. They are the bad habits of an evil servant, who causes that no good man shall receive him (them) into his service when he is so slothful, untrue, careless, forgetful, slack, and failing. The first vice is untruth. For when God sets in the heart of man goodwill to do well, then comes the devil and says to him: ‘Thou shalt easily recover it; thou art young and strong; thou shalt live long,’ and so the devil makes him to cease from doing well. Afterwards comes sloth; for he that does well and does it delayingly, it is no wonder if he does it slothfully. That is a vice whereby all the world is besmutted, (as) whoever takes good heed [may see]. For few folk there are that are diligent in what they are bound to do as regards God and their neighbour.

After sloth is forgetting. For whoever is slothful often forgets. Because of these two sins of forgetting it often befalls that he cannot be shriven; he forgets his shortcomings and his sins, which is great peril. For none can have forgiveness without true shrift, which produces repentance of heart, confession of mouth, obedience in deed; that is, amending and reparation. There is no man so good 27 that, if he saw well his own shortcomings, would not find enough to say each day in his shrift. But sloth and forgetting make the sinners blind, so that they see not in the book of their conscience.


Afterwards comes slackness, which comes of want of heart, and of evil habit, which so binds the man that with difficulty he gives himself to well-doing. Sometimes it comes of ignorance and of foolish heat, whereby the man so starves his heart and his body by fasts and by vigils and by other deeds, that he falls into feebleness and into such sickness that he cannot labour in God’s service, and perishes in the slackness because he has neither taste nor devotion for well-doing. Afterwards comes weariness, which makes the man become weary and worse from day to day, until he is quite defeated and overcome with weariness. And this is the sixth vice of the evil servant, that he fails ere he come to the end or to his term, and one can say, whoever serves and serves not fully, he loses his reward.


And yet again there are six evil points whereby sloth brings man to his end. The first is disobedience, when the man will not do what one tells him in penance; or (when) one commands him something that seems to him hard, he excuses himself that he cannot do it; or if he receives it, he does it either little or naught. The second point is impatience; for as he can bear nothing in the way of obedience, he cannot endure in the way of patience, so that none dare speak to him of his good. The third is murmuring, for when one speaks to him for his good, he is angry and murmurs, and thinks that one despises him, and therefrom he falls into sorrow, which is the fourth vice. And the same sorrow overcomes him so much that all that one says to him, all that one does to him, all that he hears, all that he sees, it all annoys him, and so he falls into sorrow 28 and into disinclination to live, so that he himself hastens and desires his death; and this is the fifth vice. After all these sorrowful points of sloth the devil gives him the deadly stroke, and brings him to despair. Therefore, he compasses his death and slays himself, as desperate and gives himself to all evils, and dreads not to do sin, whatever it be. To such an end sloth leads the man. These are eighteen points that the devil throws upon the slothful; it is no wonder though he lose the game.


The fifth head of the beast before mentioned is the sin of avarice and of covetousness, which is the root of all evil, as says St. Paul. That is the mistress who has so large a school that all go therein to learn, as says the Scripture. For all manner of folk study in avarice, both great and small: kings, prelates, clerks, both lay and religious. Avarice is inordinate love, so inordinate it shows itself in three ways generally, in winning boldly, in withholding straitly, in spending niggardly. These are the three principal boughs which grow from this root.

But specially and properly from the root of avarice go out many small roots, which are very great, deadly sins. The first is usury, the second theft, the third robbery, the fourth false claim, the fifth sacrilege, the sixth simony, the seventh wickedness, the eighth is in chaffer, the ninth is wicked craft, the tenth is in evil folk, and each of these small roots divides in many ways.

Then the first root, which is usury, divides into seven outcastings. For there are seven kinds of usurers: lending, who lend silver for others, and, above the principal, take the profits, either in pence, or in horses, or in corn, or in wine, or in fruit of the ground, which they take in mortgage, without reckoning the fruit in payment, and what is worse, they will reckon twice or thrice (in) the year in order to make the usury increase, and will yet have gifts over and above for each term, and often make of the usury a principal debt. These are usurers evil and foul. But there is another lender, courteous, who lends without 29 bargain-making, always for profit, either in pence, or in horses, or in cups of gold or of silver, or robes, or tuns with wine, or in fat swine, material services of horses, of carts, or food, to them or to their children, or in other things, and everywhere for usury, when one takes it by reason of the loan. The second kind of usury is in those that lend not to their parson, but what their fathers and the fathers of their wives or their elders have obtained by usury they withhold, and will not give it up. The third kind of usury is in them that have shame to lend with their own hand; but they cause their servants or other men to lend of their pence. These are the master usurers. Of the same sin the great men are not quit, who support and sustain Jews and the Saracens, who lend and destroy the country, and they take payments and great gifts, and sometimes the ransoms that are for the goods of the poor. The fourth kind is in them that lend of other men’s silver, or take in pledge at little cost in order to lend at greater cost. These are like usurers that learn such foul craft. The fifth kind is in unfair dealing: when one sells the thing, whatever it be, for more than it is worth at the time, and what is worse, the dishonest time-setter, when he sees the folk most necessitous, then will he sell twice as dear as the thing is worth. Such folk do too much evil. By means of their time-setting they destroy and make beggars the knights and the nobles that follow the tournaments, who assign their lands and their heritage in pledge of mortgage, which is not paid. Another sins in buying things, as corn or wine or other thing(s for) less by half than it is worth, for the pence which he pays at first, and then sells it them again twice or thrice as dear. Another buys things when they are worth least (and) very abundant (or a great bargain), corn in harvest, wine in vintage (vendage in Glossary), or wares, in order to sell again, (and keeps them) until they are most dear, and desires the dear time in order to sell the dearer. Another (buys) corn in grass, vines in bloom, when they are of fair appearance, by such a bargain that they may have, whatever chance befall, their property safe. The sixth kind is of those that take their pence to merchants, so that they may 30 be partakers in the winning and not in the loss, or who entrust their beasts, as many as half, (to them,) so that they may be of high price; that is to say, that if they die in the meantime [they have to] put others in their stead worth as much. The seventh kind is in those that do [this] to their poor neighbours in their needs—(and) because they have lent them a little silver or corn, or done some kindness, (and) when they see them poor and needy, then make they a bargain with them to do their jobs, and the pence that they delivered before to the poor man, or lent him a little corn, they have three pennyworths of work for one penny.


The second bough of avarice is theft; that is, to take or withhold other men’s things wrongfully, and without the knowledge and will of the owner. And that one may do in four ways after the manner of thieves. For there is a thief open and a thief hidden, a thief privy and a fellow-thief.

The thief common and open are those that by such craft live, on whom one does judgment when one takes them. Of such there are many kinds on land and on sea. The hidden thief is he that steals in corners and secretly, great things or little by (their) fighting, or by treason, or by cunning.

The privy thieves are those that steal not of strangers, but of private persons. And of such there are of great and of small. The great are the sinful and dishonest reeves, provosts, beadles and constables, that steal the fines and withhold the revenue of their lords, and reckon more in deeds and in expenditure, and less in receipts and in revenue. Such are the great officials that are in the house of rich men, that make great outlays, and give liberally the goods of their lords without their knowledge and without their will.

To this sin belong the sins of the wife, that does so much by her sin that the children, that she knows well that she has by adultery, bear away the legitimacy. Such is the sin of the wife that steals the goods of her lord in 31 order to give to her kin, or to put to sinful use; and of them of religion that are owners, for they promise to live without possession.

The others are the little thieves, that steal in the house bread, wine and other things, whatever they may be; or of their neighbours, their capons, hens, fruit of their gardens, or other things, whatever it may be. Such are those that withhold the things that they find, and know well whose they are, and will not give them up. For if thou findest and restorest not, thou stealest it. And though they know not whose they are, they shall not therefore withhold it, but they shall act by the advice of holy Church or that of their father confessors.

The thieves in fellowship are those that share in the theft, either because of partnership, or by gift, or by buying, or in other ways; afterwards those that consent, or advise, or command to do it. And those that excuse the thieves, or support them in their wickedness, or receive them into their house, or into his land, with their theft; afterwards the wicked judges that suffer them, either through gifts, or through entreaties, or for other evil cause, and will not, or dare not, do right.


The third bough of avarice is robbery, which hath many small roots. The first is in evil executors of bequests. The second is in evil lords, be he knight or other, that fleece the poor men that they should protect, by tolls, by duties on corn and cattle (read coruees), by loans, by evil customs, by lines, by threatenings, or by other customs that they seek or bethink how they may have of theirs. In this sin are the great princes or barons that by their power take cities, castles, lands, baronies, and the other rich men that rob their poor neighbours by force of lands, vines, or other things, and take on the right hand and on the left, so that nothing can escape them. The third is in robbers and evil innkeepers, that rob the pilgrims and the merchants and other wayfaring men. The fourth is in them that will not pay what they must, and that withhold 32 wrongfully the wages of their servants, or of them that attend to their needs. The fifth is in these great prelates, that deprive and rob their underlings by too much procuring, or by some unlawful exactions, which they make in too many ways. Those are the wolves that devour the sheep. The sixth is in such reeves, provosts, beadles, or official men, whatever they may be, as commit great robberies and wrongs upon the poor, and buy great heritages. There are so many other kinds of robberies, which it would be a long business to tell, but some are continued above that that is (here) related.


The fourth bough of avarice is false claiming; that is, running upon others wrongfully: to this sin belong all the fraud, all falsehoods, and all guile(s) that come in pleading. In this learning Dame Avarice has many scholars, both of clerks and of laymen, and especially seven kinds of folk that all study thus. The first is the false plaintiffs, that make false pleas, and seek false judges, and long time, and false witnesses, false advocates, false letters, in order to grieve others and oppress the people wrongfully, either in a Christian court or in a secular court. The second are the false fugitives that flee and [do] not what is right, and seek exceptions and respites, in order to deprive others of their own. The third is the false witnesses; these make the false marriages; these steal the heritages, (and) thus do so much evil and harm as none can amend; and all this they do through their great covetousness. The fourth is the false pleaders, that receive and sustain wittingly false causes, and plead them for hire and for gifts, which they take on the right hand and on the left, and often lose good suits by their sin, or because of ignorance or through sloth turn aside the rights and do all the wrongs on account of their covetousness, as those that are masters of guile and of dispute and of false accusation. The fifth is the false notaries that make false letters and forge the seals, make wicked libels and too many other falsehoods. The next is the false judges, that incline more 33 to one side than another through gifts or through promises or through entreaties, or for love or for anger or for dread, and unbind suits wrongfully; and have great costs made, and take great gifts, sometimes from the one, sometimes from the other, sometimes from both, and sell their judgments, or let them come to nothing; and do poor men great harm, which they cannot amend. The last are the evil assessors, that give evil advice to the judges, and cause suits to be lost on account of the services that they give. All the persons before mentioned are bound to give up what they have had wrongfully of others, and the harm that others have had by them.


The fifth bough of avarice is sacrilege. Sacrilege is when one breaks or injures, or takes away foully, the holy things, or the men of holy Church, or the hallowed places that are appropriated to God’s service, and that often cause covetousness in many ways. First, when one takes away foully the body of our Lord, as do the heretics and the witches and the wicked priests, in order to make gain. Also I speak of the other sacraments. Afterwards, when one breaks, or steals, or takes away foully, the hallowed things, the crosses, the chalices, the chrism, the fine linen, the consecrated vestments, and other consecrated things. Afterwards, when one burns or breaks churches, or holy places, church-towns, or religious houses, or when one takes those out that flee to holy Church, or into church-towns, in order to be protected. Afterwards, when one makes quarrels in church so that there is blood shed, or when one commits sin of lechery. Afterwards when one lays hands wickedly on clerk, or on man or on woman of religion. Afterwards, when one steals, or carries out of the holy place for an evil cause consecrated things or unconsecrated, whatever it may be. Of these sins those are not quit that spend the goods of holy Church, the patrimony of Jesu Christ, for an evil purpose, nor those any the more that steal, or withhold by wrong or by force, or hide the things that are appropriated to holy Church, or pay them badly, as 34 the rents, the offerings, the tithes, and the other rights of holy Church. Of this same sin those are not quit that break Sundays, and the feasts that are to be observed. For the holy day has its freedom, as have the holy places. These are the small boughs that grow from the bough of sacrilege.


The sixth bough of avarice is simony, which is so named because of a wizard, that was called Simon, who wished to buy of St. Peter the Apostle the grace to do miracles, and offered great wealth, and therefore all those are called Simoniacs, that will sell or buy spiritual things, which is, among all the deadly sins, one of the greatest. And this bough has many twigs. The first is in them that sell or buy the holy orders, or the body of our Lord, or the other sacraments of holy Church. The second is in them that sell God’s Word, and preach principally for pence. The third is in them that by gifts, or by promises, or by entreaties dreadful or carnal, prevail so far that they or others are chosen to dignities of holy Church, such as bishoprics, abbeys, or deaneries, or other dignities that one fills by election. The fourth is in them that through gifts, or through promises, or through terrible entreaties, or through unclean service, give the prebends and the parishes, or other benefices of holy Church. The fifth is in them that by bargain-making let or change their benefices. The sixth is in them that by bargain-making go into religion, and in them that in such manner receive them.

Many other sins there are, and of divers cases, in simony. But they belong more to clerks than to laymen. And this book is made more for laymen than for clerks who have books. But always it is necessary for laymen that they should keep themselves from this sin in three cases. One is when they will help their kin or their friends to rise in dignities of holy Church. The second when they give prebends or benefices that are in their gift. The third when they yield their children to religion. In these three points, if they give or receive gifts or evil entreaties or evil 35 services, they might soon fall into this sin of simony. For, as say the holy writings, there are three kinds of gifts that make simony: gift of land, gift of mouth, as entreaties, gift of uncleanly service. I call uncleanly when the services are done for an uncleanly cause, or principally for a spiritual matter.


The seventh bough of avarice is wickedness. I call wickedness, when the man is so wicked and such a devil, that he dreads not to do a great sin, deadly and horrible, or great harm to others, for a little gain or for advantage to himself. This bough has many twigs. The first is when any for dread of poverty or for covetousness, in order to make gain, forsakes (denies) God and the Christian belief, and becomes a Bulgar, or Jew, or Saracen. To this sin belongs the sin of them that for pence have the devil summoned, and make enchantments, and cause to look into a sword or into the nail of the thumb, in order to overtake thieves or for other things. And of them also that cause or obtain by charms or by witchcraft or by evil, whatever it be, that folk that are in wedlock together hate one another, or cannot have fellowship the one with the other in wedlock; or that folk, that are not in wedlock, love one another foolishly and in sin. The second is the sin of grudging and of treason (fraud), when the man for gain or for reward doth thing(s) whereby they lead others to death, either by sword, or by poison, or in other way, whatever it may be. The third is the sin of them that for gain burn houses, towns, castles, cities, or churches, or destroy the vines, or corn, or do other harm for reward. The fourth is the sin of them that sow discord, and obtain strife and wars in cities, or in capitals, or between the nobles, because they think to gain more with strife in war than in peace. The fifth is the sin of reeves, of provosts, of beadles, of servants, that accuse and challenge poor folk, and cause them to be charged, and use them ill, for a little gain that they have besides.

To this sin belongs the sin of false judges, and of false advocates, and of false witnesses, of whom we have spoken 36 above. In many other ways the sin of wickedness is done. But it were a long business to tell, and better may each man read the same sin and the others in the book of his conscience, than in any sheepskin.


The eighth bough of avarice is unfair dealing, wherein one sins in many ways for temporal gain, and especially in seven ways. The first is to sell things as dear as one can, and to buy as cheap as one can. The second is lying, swearing, and forswearing, the dearer to sell their chaffer. The third way is what one does in weights and measures, and that may be in three ways. The first when one has diverse weights or diverse measures, and buys by the greatest weights or by the greatest measures, and sells by the least. The second way is when one has just weights and just measures, and sells dishonestly, as do these tavern-keepers that fill the measure with scum. The third way is when those that sell by weight so procure and cause that the thing that one shall weigh shows more heavy. The fourth way to sin in unfair dealing is to sell to time; of this we have spoken above. The fifth way is to sell another thing than one is shown before, as do these scriveners that show a good letter at the beginning and afterwards make a bad one. The sixth is to hide the truth about the thing that one will sell, as do the fraudulent dealers. The seventh is to cause (to procure) that the thing that one sells seems to have a better appearance than it has, as do these sellers of cloth that choose dark places, where they sell their cloth. In many other ways one may sin in unfair dealings, but it would be a long matter to tell.


The ninth bough of avarice is in evil crafts. In this sin much folk in many ways; as these foolish women, that for a little gain give themselves to sin: also these heralds and these champions and many others, that for pence or for temporal profit give themselves to dishonest craft, which 37 cannot be done without sin, both of those that do it and of those that support them.


The tenth bough of avarice is evil games, such as games of dice and of tables and others, whatever they may be, where one plays for pence or for other temporal gain. Such evil games, especially of dice and of tables, are forbidden by right because of many sins that follow such games. The first is covetousness, to win, and to despoil his fellow. The second is too great usury, as nine for twelve, not for a month, nor for eight days, but in one self-same day. The third is to increase lies and idle words and, what is worse, great blasphemies of God and of His saints, wherefore God is angry, as oftentimes He has taken too little vengeance. For sometimes their visage turns round, with the front behind.

A Tale.

There was a knight that swore by God’s eyes; in haste his one eye leapt upon the checker. An archer, because he had lost at gambling, took his bow and shot upwards at God. In the morning, when he sat at play, his arrow fell upon the checker all bloody.

The fourth is the evil example, which he that plays gives to others that see the game. The fifth is loss of time that one should occupy in good works. And many other sins which it were a long matter to tell. One thing I shall not forget, that he that wins cannot well withhold what he wins, but shall give it for God’s love, except it be in such a way that he had it by fraud or by force, like him that by force causes others to play. In that case he should restore it to him that has lost it. Also I speak of what one wins at a tournament.

These are the boughs of avarice: there are enough others. But they are more for clerks than for laymen. And this book is made more for laymen than for clerks, who know the writings.



The sixth head of the evil beast is lechery; that is, excessive and inordinate love, in lust of loins or in fleshly lust. As regards this sin the devil tempts in five ways, as says St. Gregory. First in foolish sight, afterwards in foolish words, afterwards in foolish handling, afterwards in foolish kissing, afterwards one comes to the deed. For from foolish sight one comes to the speech, and from the speech to the handling, from the handling to the kissing, from the kissing to the deed. And thus subtlely the devil makes (one) go from one to another. This sin divides first into two kinds, for there is lechery of heart and lechery of body. The lechery of heart has four steps. For the spirit of fornication, which attends on the fire of lechery, embraces the hearts; first makes the thoughts come, and the delights, and the imaginations of sin to the heart, and makes (it) think. Afterwards the heart dwells on the thoughts, and so is delighted; yet it does not the deed for anything. And in this dwelling and in the same lust is the second step, which may be deadly sin. The great sin may be the lust. The third step is the consenting of heart, and of the reason, and of the will. And such consentings are always deadly sin. After the consenting comes the desire and the great heat that they have to sin, and do more than twenty sins in the day, in sight of ladies and of maidens, who show themselves fairly adorned, who often show and adorn themselves the more quaintly and the more beautifully in order to make fools wonder at them, and think not to sin greatly because they have no will to do the deed. But forsooth they sin very grievously. For by reason of them are many souls lost. And there is much folk brought to death and to sin. For, as says the proverb, ‘Lady of fair adorning is arbalest to the tower.’ For she has not a limb in her body that is not a trap of the devil, as Solomon says. Then it behoves at the day of judgment to give account of the souls that by reason of them are lost: that is to say, when they give occasion to sin wittingly.

Lechery of body is divided into lechery of eyes, of ears, of mouth, of hands, and of all the senses of the body, and especially of the foul deed. And how is it a foul deed since 39 it is natural? Because God forbids it in His Gospel, and His Apostle Paul, who thus says: ‘Let each man have his own, because of fornication;’ that is to say, his own wife. To that sin belong all the things whereby the flesh rises and desires such a deed, such as the great drinkers and eaters, the soft bed, pleasant clothes, and all manner of ease of body unnecessarily, and especially idleness.

The sin of the deed of lechery is divided into many boughs according to the state of the persons that do it, and goes upwards from bad to worse. The first is of man or of woman that have no bond, either of widowhood, or of wedlock, or of orders, or of religion, or of another kind. That is the first deadly sin in the deed of lechery. The second is with a common woman. This sin is harder because it (she) is older, and because such women are sometimes wives, or (women) of religion, and forsake no one, neither father, nor brother, nor son, nor kin. The third is of a single man with a widow, or the converse. The fourth is with a single woman. The fifth is with a married woman; that is the sin of adultery, which is very wrong, because there is breaking of troth, which the one shall bear to the other; afterwards there is a sacrilege, when one breaks the sacrament of marriage; sometimes desertion of heir befalls, and false marriages. This sin is sometimes doubled, when it is of a married man with a woman that has a husband. The sixth is when the man, (that) has his own wife, does a thing that is forbidden and inordinate, against the nature of man and orders and marriage. And with his own sword a man may slay himself. Also he may with his own wife sin deadly. Therefore God smote to an evil death Onan, Jacob’s nephew. And the devil that was called Asmodeus strangled the seven husbands of the holy maid, Sara, who was afterwards the wife of young Tobias. For all the sacraments of holy Church one shall use cleanlily and with great honour. The seventh is of a man with his godmother or with his goddaughter, or of a godson with the children of his sponsors, for those children cannot come together without deadly sin, not even in marriage. The eighth is of a man with his kin, and the same sin is increased and lessened according as the kinship is near or far. The ninth is of the man with the 40 kin of his wife, or, on the contrary, of the wife with the kin of her husband. The same sin is very dreadful. For when the man hath fellowship with any woman, he can no longer in marriage have any of her kin, and if he takes any the marriage is naught. And if he takes a wife and afterwards [another woman] on the side of her kin, he loses the right that he had to his wife, inasmuch as she may not afterwards dwell with him, except she beg for it before. The tenth is of women with hooded clerks. This sin is increased and lessened according to the hoods and the esteem. The eleventh is of a man of the world with a woman of religion, or, on the contrary, of a woman of the world with a man of religion. The twelfth is of a man of religion and a woman of religion, and this sin is increased and lessened according to the state of the persons that do it. The thirteenth is of prelates, who should be a pattern and example of holiness and of cleanness to all the world. The last is most foul and most loathsome, which is not to be named. The same sin is against nature, which the devil teaches to man or to woman in many ways, which are not to be named because of the matter, which is too abominable. But in shrift the same shall name it, to whom it is befallen. For as much more foul and more horrible the sin is, the more shrift avails. For the shame that one has in the telling is a great part of the penance. This sin is so hateful to God that He did rain burning fire and stinking brimstone upon the city of Sodom, and of Gomorrah, and caused five cities to sink into hell. The devil himself, who brings it about, has shame when man does it, and the air is envenomed with the deed.


The seventh head of the evil beast is the sin of the mouth; and because the mouth has two offices, whereof the one belongs to the swallow, as to meat and to drink, the other is in speech; therefore the same sin is divided principally into two parts: to wit, into the sin of gluttony, which is in meat and in drink; and into the sin of an evil tongue, that is, foolish speaking. And first let us speak of the sin of gluttony, which is a vice that the devil is much pleased with, 41 and (which) much displeases God. Through such sin has the devil very great power over man. Whereof we read in the Gospel, that God gave the devils leave to go into the swine, and when they were in them (they) drowned them in the sea, as a sign that gluttons lead the life of swine, and the devil has leave to go into them, and drown them in the sea of hell, and to cause them to eat so much that they burst asunder, and to drink so much that they drown themselves.

When the champion has felled his man and holds him by the throat, with great difficulty he arises. And so it is with those that the devil holds through sin, and therefore blithely he runs at the throat, like the wolf to the sheep, in order to strangle him, as he did to Eve and to Adam in the terrestrial paradise. That is the fisherman of hell, who takes the fish by the throat and by the chin. This sin much displeases God. For the glutton works too great a shame when he makes his god of a sack full of dung, that is, of his belly, which he loves more than God, and in it remains, and serves it. God commands him to fast; the belly says: ‘Thou shalt not, but eat long and continuously.’ God commands him in the morning to arise; the belly says: ‘Thou shalt not; I am too full, it behoves me to sleep; the church is no hare, it can well await me.’ And when he arises, he begins his matins and his prayers and his orisons, and says: ‘Ah, God! what shall we eat to-day? whether one shall find anything that is worth (eating)?’ After these matins come the praises, and he says: ‘Ah, God! lo, we had good wine yester evening and good meats.’ And after that he beweeps his sins and says: ‘Alas!’ he says: ‘I have been nigh dead to-night; too strong was that wine last evening. My head aches; I shall not be at ease until I have drunk.’ Thus, too, the evil man says. This sin leads man to shame. For first of all he becomes a tavern-goer, then he plays at dice, then he sells his own, then he becomes ribald, a whoremonger and thief, and then one hangs him. This is the scot (payment) that one often pays.

This sin is divided, as by St. Gregory, into five boughs. For in five ways one sins by meat and by drink; either in that one eats and drinks before time, or too greedily, or out 42 of measure, or too ardently, or too plenteously. The first bough, then, of this sin is to eat before time, and too foul a thing it is of a man that has age when he cannot wait for the time to eat; and of great lechery of throat it comes that a man who is strong and whole of body without reasonable cause yearns for meat before the right hour, as does a dumb beast. And many sins come of the same habit. Then it comes about that such a man says, that he cannot fast or do penance; for he has said this: ‘I have too bad a head.’ And he says true, for he has made it such, and an evil heart also, which that sin has made, and has caused him to break the fasts, which is a great sin. And if he damned himself by himself, thereof no matter; but he will have fellows, that do as he does, whom he draws from well-doing, and leads them with him into hell. For he causes them to break their fasts and do their gluttonies, wherefrom they would keep themselves, if there were no evil companions. For the drinker and the whoremonger, among the other evils that they do, [commit] one sin that is properly the devil’s, when they withdraw [others] from well-doing. They say that they cannot fast, but they lie. For little love of God possesses them that I speak of. For if they loved the true joy of heaven as much as they do the idle bliss of this world, as they fast because of temporal needs until night, as well might they fast until noon for God, if they loved Him so much. But they are just like the child that will always have the bread in his hand. And thou shalt know that as one sins by too early rising in order to eat, so also one sins in supping late. The folk, then, that love to sup late, and to keep awake at night, and waste the time in idleness, and go late to bed and rise late, sin in many ways. First, in that they waste the time and misspend it, when they make of the night day and of the day night. Such folk God accurses by the prophet. For one shall by day do good, and by night praise God and pray; but whoever lies abed when he should arise, sleep he must when he should pray, and his service hear, and praise God; and thus he loses all his time, both by night and by day. Afterwards in such vigils one does many evils, as play at chess or at games of hazard, and one says much scorn and folly, and thus the wretch wastes 43 his time and his wits and his goods, and angers God, and harms his body, and still more his soul.

The second bough is excess and want of moderation in meat and in drink. The same are properly gluttons, who devour all, as does the kite with his sparrow. There is great sense in observing moderation in meat and in drink, and great health, for many people die, and often there come great sicknesses. But whoever will learn this moderation, he shall know and understand that there are many ways of living in the world. The first lives by the flesh, the second by his jollity, the third by his physic, the fourth by his honesty, the fifth by what his (their) sins require, the sixth by the spirit and by the love of God.

Those that live by the flesh, as says St. Paul, slay their souls, for they make their god of their belly. The same observe neither reason nor measures, and therefore they shall have in the other world torment without measure.

Those that live by their jollity will keep their foolish fellowships, so that they neither know how, nor are able to observe measure.

Those that live by hypocrisy, who are the devil’s martyrs, have two measures, for the two devils that torment the hypocrite are much opposed to each other. The one says to him: ‘Eat enough, until thou art fair and fat;’ the other says to him: ‘Thou shalt not, but thou shalt fast until thou art pale and lean.’ Now, it behoves to have two measures, one little and (one) scant that he uses before people; and another good and liberal, which he uses so that none sees; this holds not the right measure. He whom covetousness leads has such a measure as the purse wills, who is lady and hostess of the house. Then shall we between the purse and the belly of the glutton have a fair strife. The belly says: ‘I will be full;’ the purse says: ‘I will be full.’ The belly says: ‘I will that thou eat and drink, and that thou spend.’ And the purse says: ‘Thou shalt not; I will that thou keep and retrench.’ Alas! what shall he do, this wretch who is thrall to two such evil lords? Two measures make the wight mad: the measure of the belly, in other men’s house good and liberal; and the measure of the purse, of her who is sorrowful and sparing.


Those that live by physic observe the measure of Hippocrates, which is little and narrow; and it often befalls that he that by physic lives by physic dies.

Those that live by their honesty, the same observe the measure of reason and live honourably to the world, who eat at the time and at the hour, and take with goodwill what they have both courteously and gladly.

Those that live by what their sins demand observe such manner and measure as one enjoins on them in penance.

Those that live by the Spirit are those that dwell in the love of God, whom the Holy Ghost teaches to observe order and reason and measure; those that have control over their bodies, who is so taught that he asks for no extraordinary thing, and does what the Spirit commands without murmuring and without contradiction.

Now canst thou see, from what we have said here, that the devil has many gins to take people by the throat; for first he shows them wines and meats that are fair and pleasant, as he did the apple to Eve. And if that avails not, he says to him: ‘Eat and drink like so and so and so and so; it behoves thee to keep fellowship, if thou wilt that one should not starve thee, nor esteem thee a hypocrite;’ or he says to him: ‘The health of thy body thou shalt look after, for whoever hath not health hath naught. Be not thine own manslayer; thou owest to thy body sustenance.’ Or he says to him: ‘Take heed to the good things that thou dost or mayest do; thou eatest not for the lust of thy body, but to serve God; thou shalt keep thy strength for God, as David says.’ These reasons are so convincing that the wisest and holiest man is sometimes beguiled.

The third bough of this sin is to run hastily after meat, as does the hound after the hare; and the greater the haste is, the greater is the sin. For as it is no sin to have riches, but to love them too much; just so it is no sin to eat good meats, but to eat them too hastily or immoderately. To eat meats is good for the good, and for them that use them in reason and in measure, and take them with the sauce of the dread of our Lord. For one shall evermore have dread lest one mistake through excess, and one shall praise God and yield Him thanks for His gifts. And by the sweetness 45 of the meat, which otherwise cannot be, one shall think of God’s sweetness and of that meat which fills the heart. Therefore one reads in a religious house at meat, in order that when the body takes its meat on the one hand the heart should take its on the other hand.

The fourth bough of this sin is of those that will live too nobly, who spend and waste, in order to fill (up the measure of) their gluttony, (that) whereby a hundred poor might live and sufficiently be filled. Such folk sin in many ways. First, in the great spendings that they make; afterwards in that they use it in too great heat and in too great lust; and afterwards in the idle bliss that they have. For it is not only lechery of taste, but it is very often for boasting that they seek such rich meats and make so many messes, whereof come often many evils.

The fifth bough is the anxiety of gluttons, who seek only the delight of their swallow. These are properly lechers, who seek only the lust of their swallow. In three things especially lies the sin of such folk. First, in the great anxiety that they have to purchase and to prepare; afterwards, in the great lust that they have in the use; afterwards, in the bliss that they have in the recalling. And who (is there) that could tell what trouble they take in order that their meats may be well prepared, and each to his own smack, and how they may make of one meat many disguised messes because of their foul lust. And when the messes are come, one after the other, then are (there) jests and trifles for entrements, and in this manner goes the time. The wretch forgets himself, reason sleeps, the stomach (in complaint) cries and says: ‘Dame Swallow, thou slayest me; I am so full that I burst asunder.’ But the tongue, the lickster, answers him and says: ‘Though thou shouldst burst asunder, I will not let this mess escape.’ After the lechery that is in eating comes the bliss that is in him who recalls (it). Afterwards they wish that they had the necks of a crane and the belly of a cow, in order that the morsels might remain longer in the throat, and (that they) might devour more.

Now thou hast heard the sins that come of gluttony and of lechery. And because such sins arise commonly in the 46 tavern, which is a well of sin, therefore I will touch a little upon the sins that are done in the tavern. The tavern is the school of the devil, where his disciples study, and his own chapel, where one performs his service, and where he does his miracles, such as it behoves the devil (to do). At church God can show His virtues and do His miracles, to give sight to the blind, to make the crooked straight, to restore the wits of the mad, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf. But the devil does all, on the contrary, in the tavern. For when the glutton goes into the tavern, he goes upright; when he comes out, he has not a foot that can sustain or bear him. When he goes therein, he sees and hears and speaks well and understands; when he comes out, he has lost all this, just like one that has not wit or reason or understanding. Such are the miracles that the devil does. And what lessons he reads there! All filth he teaches there, gluttony, lechery, swearing, forswearing; to lie, to slander, to deny God, to misreport, to dispute, and too many other kinds of sins. There arise chidings, strifes, manslaughters; there one teaches to steal and to be hanged. The tavern is a ditch to thieves, and the devil’s castle in order to war against God and His saints; and those that sustain the taverns are sharers in all the sins that are done in their taverns; and forsooth if one said or did as much shame to their father or to their mother or to their lads, as one does to their heavenly Father and to our Lady and to the saints of paradise, they would grow very angry and take other counsel in regard to it than they do.

To Dr. Skeat our cordial thanks are tendered for kindly looking over the proof-sheets and making some valuable suggestions.

Transcriber’s Notes