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XVI. Later Transition English

§ 14. Adam Davy

Another interesting production of the south-eastern counties is a poem of a hundred and sixty-eight octosyllabic lines, riming in couplets, known as the Dreams of Adam Davy, which appears to date from the beginning of the reign of Edward II. The author, who, as he himself informs us, lived near London, and was well known far and wide, tells how, within the space of twelve months, beginning on a Wednesday in August, and ending on a Thursday in September of the following year, he dreamed five dreams, concerning Edward the king, prince of Wales. In the first dream he thought he saw the king standing armed and crowned before the shrine of St. Edward. As he stood there, two knights set upon him and belaboured him with their swords, but without effect. When they were gone, four bands of divers coloured light streamed out of each of the king’s ears.

The second vision took place on a Tuesday before the feast of All Hallows, and, on that night, the poet dreamed that he saw Edward clad in a grey mantle, riding on an ass to Rome, there to be chosen emperor. He rode as a pilgrim, without hose or shoes, and his legs were covered with blood. This theme is continued in the third vision, on St. Lucy’s day, when the seer thought that he was in Rome, and saw the pope in his mitre and Edward with his crown, in token that he should be emperor of Christendom.

In the fourth vision, on Christmas night, the poet imagined that he was in a chapel of the Virgin Mary and that Christ, unloosing His hands from the cross, begged permission from His Mother to convey Edward on a pilgrimage against the foes of Christendom; and Christ’s Mother gave Him leave, because Edward had served her day and night.

Then came an interval in the dreams, but, one Wednesday in Lent, the poet heard a voice which bade him make known his visions to the king; and the injunction was repeated after the last vision, in which he saw an angel lead Edward, clad in a robe red as the juice of a mulberry, to the high altar at Canterbury.

The exact purpose of these verses is very difficult to determine. The manuscript in which they are preserved (Laud MS. 622) appears to belong to the end of the fourteenth century; but the allusion to “Sir Edward the king, prince of Wales” is applicable only to Edward II. Perhaps they were designed to check the king in the course of frivolity and misrule which ended in his deposition; but the tone is very loyal, and the references to him are extremely complimentary. The poems are, in fact, intentionally obscure, a characteristic which they share with other prophecies of the same class, notably those attributed to Merlin and Thomas of Erceldoune. The same manuscript contains poems on the Life of St. Alexius, the Battle of Jerusalem, the Fifteen Signs before Domesday, Scripture Histories and the Lamentation of Souls, which show many resemblances to the Dreams, and may also be by Adam Davy; if so, he must have been a man of education, since some of them seem to be derived directly from Latin originals