Bawdy Tales Pt. 01 — The Monk's Story

By Kavyansh

Original link: https://www.storiesspace.com/stories/general/bawdy-tales-pt-01-the-monks-story.aspx

Tags: middle ages, pestilence, plague survivors, the journey, saucy tales

Added: 01 Nov 2016 Views: 699 Avg Score: 5

Introduction

In the late Middle Ages the greatest and most deadly outbreak of infectious disease in history ravaged Europe. Known today as the Black Death, it eventually killed between one-third and a half of the population. 

The disease, which is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, was carried by fleas living on the rats that were found in ports and on board ships. Humans were usually infected by the bite of a flea, although person to person transmission also occurred through coughing or sneezing.

The first cases of bubonic plague were seen in 1346 in the Genoan port of Caffa in the Crimea, and the disease was carried to Europe on the merchant vessels plying their trade between Italy and the Black Sea ports. The first case was seen in England in June 1348 in the Dorset port of Weymouth in a sailor from Gascony. By autumn the disease had reached London and spread to the rest of the country by summer 1349 before dying down in December that year. It is estimated that in England alone more than 1.4 million people died in the space of a few months.

At the time, the disease was generally called the Great Pestilence or the Great Mortality and was not given the name by which it is known today until the seventeenth century. The disease received its name bubonic plague because of the appearance of the swellings in the groin, neck, and armpits. These were known as buboes, and they oozed pus and blood when opened. The appearance of buboes was followed by fever, malaise, and vomiting of blood, and 80% of victims died within two to seven days of being infected.

This story is about an imaginary group of plague survivors in Yorkshire in 1349 who decide to travel South to London in search of a new life and the tales they tell to amuse each other as they travel south in search of a new life.

ooOoo

Prologue

Cawood, April 24th in the year of grace 1349. Yesterday perchance I found myself in the great city of York, which is just three leagues from here. I was there with my wife Godgifu to attend the festivities attending on the feast of St George. Yesterday Sir Miles Stapleton, Lord of Bedale and Knight of the Garter — a new order of chivalry instituted last year under the banner of St George by our glorious King Edward III by the grace of God — was in attendance at the York Minster to give thanks for his recent magnificent victories in the tourney. As a true son of Yorkshire, I sought to combine business with pleasure. After the service in the Minster, I sought out Will, a timber merchant of my acquaintance, in the tavern of the White Hart. I needed to order some wood for the erection of stands for the Mayday celebrations in our village. I am a joiner and carpenter by trade and also the village undertaker. While I was taking a pint or two of ale with Master Will, I overheard a man saying that he had been told that the first cases of the Great Pestilence had been seen in the great port of Kingston on the Humber. We received news last summer of how the pestilence had ravaged London and the south of the country, but we had prayed that we would be spared. This Sunday I must make an offering to the priest to pray for our salvation; God be feared.

Cawood, May 2nd in the year of grace 1349. The celebrations went off well yesterday. Father Julian said mass in the church and then we all sojourned to the tavern. All the girls and boys of the village looked so sweet dancing round the maypole. A great beast was roasted on the village green for the feasting, and there were much laughter and carousing. Some of the older lads and lasses slipped away from time to time for a little merrymaking of their own — there are always a few more weddings than usual at Michaelmasstide and February brings its crop of new babies. By eventide everyone had feasted and drunk to their heart's content; some too much so — there would be a few sore heads in the morning I thought. We were all making ready to make our way to our beds when a man rushed into the inn in great alarm, and when he could catch his breath, he blurted out that the pestilence was in York, and the priests were saying masses in the Minster for the deliverance of the city.

Cawood, May 5th. I am Godgifu, wife of that good man Oswine. My husband was taken sick yesterday with such terrible chills, and now he is burning with fever. This morning terrible swellings the size of an egg appeared in his armpit and groin. He is tossing about in the bed in his extremity, and I have been applying wet cloths to his forehead to soothe him, but to no avail. I fear for his life, but I constantly pray to the Virgin that he be spared this terrible pestilence. I do not know what I will do if he dies or where I will go, for I will certainly be put out on the street by the Squire, and I have no children to take me in.

Cawood, May 14th. I can no longer call on the name of the Lord, for he has surely forsaken us. What dire sin we have committed I know not, but we are cast into the darkness of hell where there are weeping and gnashing of teeth. The priest has fled, and the village is strangely silent; no sound of good wives gossiping at their doors or the happy laughter of children playing. I awoke two days ago to find my dear wife dead on the floor lying in a pool of her own vomit and blood. The stench was terrible. I am still very weak, but I managed to crawl to the hearth and filled my belly with cold potage and mouldy bread. I do not have the strength to bury my wife, so I covered her body with a blanket and said a prayer for her soul; may God have mercy. She was a good woman even though she couldn't give me any children to carry my name. Some people said I should have put her aside, but I loved her dearly and that I would not do. I grieve for her, and such terrible loneliness afflicts my soul, but I no longer have tears to shed.

Cawood, May 21st. I have decided after much thought that I must leave my home and this village and make my way to York. There is none other left alive here, and I have no future in this place. At least I have my trade to fall back on, for surely there will be work for a carpenter wherever there are people still alive if only to make coffins for the dead. I have managed to find some food in the houses of my neighbours — it cannot be theft if one takes from the dead what they no longer have need of. Tomorrow I shall set out carrying my tools and what money I have to seek a better fortune in the world.

York, The White Hart, May 23rd. And so I find myself in a motley company. We are a rag bag collection of men — and a few women — survivors of the judgment of God, if there is a God, which I start to doubt. Some of us were fortunate not to be afflicted, but there are others such as me who have been through the fire and come out alive, though not unscathed. None will ever forget the horrors we have seen, and we will all bear the scars until our mortal lifes end. Some have reported whole villages with not a single soul left alive. Strange to tell this pestilence was no respecter of persons. Men and women of high rank and of none were struck down. Nor did God protect his servants. Priests and monks were taken despite their piety and prayers, and it seems to me that prayers and sacrifices have been no protection against the Angel of Death. What point therefore in continuing in the old ways of obedience when even the Church could not save its own?

We have been arguing since noon about what should be the best thing to do. There is no work here in the city even for those with a trade. Some have argued that it would be better to stay and wait for the return of the good times. Others — and I count myself among their number — believe that to wait on fortune is futile. It might be many months even years before the true ordering of society is restored, and in the meantime, we all need to earn our bread and board if we are not to descend to the level of vagabonds and thieves and take what we need. Tomorrow there will be more arguing. Tempers will flare, and blood will be spilled — more deaths to add to the harvest of the Devil which has brought us to this pass. A small band of us have therefore taken a different council, and tomorrow we will set out on a journey into the unknown and make our way south to the heart of the kingdom. London will be our goal, for we have heard that its streets are paved with gold and that there is work for every man. It is there that we go to seek our fortunes and to carve out a new future for ourselves. So without a backward glance I will leave my home city free from the ties of past allegiance and obligation, but not with a light heart for I have lost all that was dearest to me. There is always hope I suppose.

ooOoo

Our Journey Begins

Tadcaster, The Kings Head, May 24th. We are a small band of adventurers just twelve in number. What a strange fellowship we make. Some are tradesmen such as myself, but our number includes a monk — or former monk for he has cast off his habit and taken the garb of an ordinary man — a friar, cook, miller, and a pedlar of fancies. There are also three women. One is the widow of a merchant and the other a bawd whose whores either perished or fled, all except one who was with her. I forget the rest. All drawn together by circumstance and not a group you would normally expect to find traveling together. I'm afraid that we took a couple of palfreys from the stables for the widow and the bawd. They would otherwise have found the journey too arduous. The owners were dead, so we gave the innkeeper a few crowns to take them off his hands, for they would probably have gone to the knackers else, but it was much less than their true worth.

Knot-tingly, The Lamb, May 25th. At first, we trudged in silence each caught up in our own thought and memories. By common consent it was agreed that we must need find some way to entertain ourselves, or more truthfully each other, else we would be a melancholy crew indeed. One or two were for gaming or dice, but that would only divide our number, for some would win whilst others would lose, and that would end in discord. God help us it is the bawd who came up with the idea which drew the greatest agreement. So each night by turns we will each undertake to tell a story to wile away our evenings and provide a topic for conversation on the morrow. To make things fair lots will be drawn each morn before we set out to see who should take the stage that evening, time enough on the road for that person to collect their thoughts and frame the night's entertainment.

These then are the tales with which we beguiled each other beginning with the monk. There was a general groan when he drew the first lot, for what had he learned in his monastery other than prayers and psalms — dreary fodder indeed. As it turned out, we were surprised, and perhaps even shocked, for we had not thought that such things as the monk described would have taken place among those who had renounced the pleasures of the flesh.

ooOoo

The Monk's Tale or how an innocent novice monk was betrayed into carnal sin by a wicked Prioress.

You will understand my friends that the events I am about to relate to you took place many years ago when I was a young and innocent novice and ignorant of the wiles of women, begging your pardon ladies. My father was a blacksmith. He was a vigorous and lusty man, who sired a child every year without fail on my mother until her death in childbed when I was nine years old. I was the seventh of sixteen children — eight of whom survived the perils of childhood — and the fourth and last of my father's sons. Until this recent calamity two of my brothers and three of my sisters were still living, although I have not heard whether any were spared by the grace of God and the Holy Virgin; her name be praised.

When I was but ten years old, my father sold me to the Abbey at nearby Selby as a servant, saying he had enough mouths to feed, and as I was a sickly child I was of little use in earning my keep by helping in the forge. I was quick with my letters and found employment in the Almonery helping to keep the records of those in dire poverty in the nearby town who were recipients of the monastery's charity. When I was in my eighteenth year, the Prior called me to his lodgings one morning after Matins. He told me that he had received good reports of my diligence and piety and that he had decided that I was fit to become a postulant. If he received a satisfactory report from the novice master, he said that I would be received as a novice at a ceremony the next Pentecost Sunday.

So it was, that I entered upon my year of instruction on the Feast of Pentecost in the year of our Lord 1300, just a few days after my eighteenth birthday; a year when my fitness to take my vows of poverty, obedience and chastity would be proved before I could be admitted to the community as a full brother. 

In defence of my behaviour at Christmastide that year which I am about to relate I must report that the Abbot and monks had gained a reputation for loose living and misconduct with some of the married women of the town; a reputation which I am sorry to confirm was entirely justified.

It so happed that on the Eve of Christmas the Abbot received a visit from the Prioress of the nearby house of Nun Appleton, and she was prevailed upon by the Abbot to remain as a guest for the twelve days of the Feast. She intimated that she took great interest in the instruction of novices, and on the day after Feast of Saint Stephen she visited the novice master to ask about his methods. She was particularly concerned about our spiritual health she said and wanted to know how he went about driving the Devil from our souls. If she had asked me, I could have told her that he had a great belief in the power of the lash and took special pleasure in making us strip and kneel in an attitude of prayer while he whipped us in a frenzy of religious fervour.

The following day whilst I was at my prayers I received a note asking me to visit the Prioress in her lodging in the guest quarters after Compline that evening. So it was with trepidation that about two hours before midnight I found myself knocking on the door to her rooms. In a low voice, she called out that I should enter and draw the bolt behind me. I found myself in a small but cosy antechamber with a log fire burning in the hearth before which were laid several sheepskins covering the stone flags of the floor.

Of the Prioress, there was no evidence, but after a minute or two, she entered from her bedroom. Her appearance shocked me, and I was moved to flee, but she stayed me with a gesture. Instead of her austere habit, which I had expected her to be wearing, she was clothed in a simple gown of white linen which was only loosely tied with a cord of silk, and I could plainly see the curve of her breasts and the shape of her body.

"Young man," she said, "the reports I have received about the methods of your master have filled me with great alarm. In my experience beating only serves to drive the Devil deeper into your soul from whence, he will only rise up to lead you into sin. Now be seated over there," indicating a low stool by the hearth, "and I will set about saving your soul, but first you must strip off your habit and braies for naked you came into the world and naked you must be to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

Feeling most uncomfortable I did as she bade me for she was my superior and I had no choice but to obey. Once I was sat, I covered my privates with my hands, but she told me to take my hands away. It was from my member that the Devil would leave my body she said, and she had to see that I was properly ready for her to draw him out.

Then to my utter dismay and confusion, and to my horrified gaze, she removed her robe and stood before me utterly naked. To my eternal shame, I could not prevent myself responding to what I was forced to watch. I felt an unaccustomed stirring in my loins, and my member began to grow and stand erect before me. Worse was to follow as the Prioress parted her thighs to reveal her forbidden places.

"The only true way to be certain that the Devil is driven from you, and so that you are shriven and saved from future sin, is for you to lie with me as a husband does with his wife," she whispered. I supposed so that the Devil would not hear her plans and resist. "The evil one will not be able to resist the sweet allure of my female body, and he will be drawn from the depths of your soul and expelled with the emission of your seed into the place I have made ready for him. He will then be trapped until the curse of all womankind comes upon me, and I pass blood from my womb when he will be expelled into the common sewer where he belongs."

All sense of sin had by now fled from my fevered brain, and a great heat was spreading throughout my inflamed body. I now realise that I was in the grip of a great madness and powerless to resist, so when the Prioress lay down on the rugs in front of the fire and instructed me to lie with her, I obeyed with a fascinated alacrity. Then began the great struggle — a battle for my soul as I believed it to be — as I thrust into the warm heart of her most intimate being and she began to moan and writhe in religious ecstasy.

Finally, with a great shout, the Devil passed like fire from my body into the place she had prepared to entrap him. I knew that he had entered her body because of her convulsions and cries of pain and triumph. Truly this was a great victory over the evil one and in the aftermath I felt a great peace steal through my whole body. At that moment I knew that I was saved for eternal life with our Saviour.

The Prioress spoke once more before rising from her place of travail and retiring to the seclusion of her cell to pray. "You may go now, but tell no one of what has transpired here tonight. I have yet to bring salvation to another five of your fellow novices, and if the Devil hears of my plans he will prevent them, and their souls will be lost eternally. Go in peace my child and may our Saviour and the Virgin be with you to bring you to the true knowledge of the place prepared for you in Heaven."

That my friends is the true story of how I was saved from the clutches of the Evil One into the blessed life of the elect, who will gather round our Lord to sing praises unto Eternity. Many times I have relived that night, and experienced anew the great feeling of joy that I felt; evidence of my salvation from the power of sin.