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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XVII. Later Transition English

§ 3. The Deeds of Hereward

Some hint of what the people had liked to hear in the way of tales is preserved for us in The Deeds of Hereward, a son of Lady Godiva, and an offspring of the native soil, the recital of whose horse-play in the court of the king and of whose deeds on his speedy mare Swallow would appeal to all who liked the tale of Havelok, the strapping Grimsby fisher lad, scullery boy and king’s son. But the secular tale and satirical poem of the thirteenth and fourteenth century appealed to a different audience and are of direct historical value. In Latin and in English, the tyranny and vice and luxury of the times are strongly condemned, the conduct of simoniacal priest and sensual friar is held up to ridicule; and, in that way, the ground was prepared for the seed to be sown later by the Lollards. Monasticism, which had risen to an extraordinary height during the regin of Stephen and borne excellent fruit in the educational labours of men like Gilbert of Sempringham, began to decline in the early years of the thirteenth century. Then came the friars; and their work among the people, especially in relieving physical suffering, was characterised by a self-sacrificing zeal which showed that they were true sons of Assisi; but there were some among those who succeeded them whose light lives and dark deeds are faithfully reflected in the songs and satires of Middle English; and there were others, in higher stations, equally false to their trust, who form the subject of the political verse coming into vogue in the vernacular. Even though it be borne in mind that the mutual antagonism between regulars and seculars, and between members of different orders, may be responsible for some of the scandals satirised, and that there was always a lighter side to the picture—against bishop Golias and his clan there were, surely, people like Richard Rolle of Hampole—yet sufficient evidence remains, apart from the testimony of Matthew Paris, of the steadily growing unpopularity of monks and friars, and the equally steady growth of the revolt of the people against clerical influence.