The Prioress' Tale in Chaucer's Middle English

This story from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is often omitted from collections of his work. It is about Hugh of Lincoln, a boy who was victim of the jewish ritual murder of young Christians, a practice believed to be carried down to this very day. For help with many of the medieval English words, see the Middle-English glossary at



The Prologe of the Prioresses Tale.


Domine dominus noster.




"O lord oure lord, thy name how merveillous


Is in this large world ysprad," quod she


"For noght oonly thy laude precious


Parfourned is by men of dignitee,


But by the mouth of children thy bountee


Parfourned is, for on the brest soukynge


Somtyme shewen they thyn heriynge.




Wherfore in laude, as I best kan or may,


Of thee, and of the whyte lylye flour


Which that the bar, and is a mayde alway,


To telle a storie I wol do my labour;


Nat that I may encressen hir honour,


For she hirself is honour, and the roote


Of bountee, next hir sone, and soules boote.




O mooder Mayde! O mayde Mooder free!


O bussh unbrent, brennynge in Moyses sighte,


That ravysedest doun fro the deitee


Thurgh thyn humblesse, the Goost that in th'alighte,


Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte,


Conceyved was the Fadres sapience,


Help me to telle it in thy reverence.




Lady, thy bountee, thy magnificence,


Thy vertu, and thy grete humylitee,


Ther may no tonge expresse in no science,


For somtyme, lady, er men praye to thee,


Thou goost biforn of thy benyngnytee


And getest us the lyght, thurgh thy preyere,


To gyden us unto thy Sone so deere.




My konnyng is so wayk, O blisful Queene,


For to declare thy grete worthynesse,


That I ne may the weighte nat susteene,


But as a child of twelf monthe oold, or lesse,


That kan unnethes any word expresse,


Right so fare I; and therfore I yow preye,


Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye."



Heere bigynneth the Prioresses Tale.




Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,


Amonges Cristene folk, a Jewerye,


Sustened by a lord of that contree


For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,


Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye,


And thurgh this strete men myghte ride or wende,


For it was free and open at eyther ende.




A litel scole of cristen folk ther stood


Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were


Children an heep, ycomen of Cristen blood,


That lerned in that scole yeer by yeer


Swich manere doctrine as men used there,


This is to seyn, to syngen and to rede,


As smale children doon in hir childhede.




Among thise children was a wydwes sone,


A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age,


That day by day to scole was his wone,


And eek also, wher as he saugh th' ymage


Of Cristes mooder, he hadde in usage


As hym was taught, to knele adoun, and seye


His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.




Thus hath this wydwe hir litel sone ytaught


Oure blisful Lady, Cristes mooder deere,


To worshipe ay; and he forgate it naught,


For sely child wol alday soone leere.


But ay, whan I remembre on this mateere,


Seint Nicholas stant evere in my presence,


For he so yong to Crist dide reverence.




This litel child, his litel book lernynge,


As he sat in the scole at his prymer,


He Alma redemptoris herde synge


As children lerned hir anthiphoner;


And as he dorste, he drough hym ner and ner,


And herkned ay the wordes and the noote,


Til he the firste vers koude al by rote.




Noght wiste he what this Latyn was to seye,


For he so yong and tendre was of age,


But on a day his felawe gan he preye


T'expounden hym this song in his langage,


Or telle hym why this song was in usage;


This preyde he hym to construe and declare


Ful often tyme upon hise knowes bare.




His felawe, which that elder was than he,


Answerde hym thus, "This song, I have herd seye,


Was maked of oure blisful Lady free,


Hir to salue, and eek hir for to preye


To been our help, and socour whan we deye.


I kan namoore expounde in this mateere,


I lerne song, I kan but smal grammere."




"And is this song maked in reverence


Of Cristes mooder?" seyde this innocent.


"Now, certes, I wol do my diligence


To konne it al, er Cristemasse is went;


Though that I for my prymer shal be shent


And shal be beten thries in an houre,


I wol it konne, oure lady for to honoure."




His felawe taughte hym homward prively


Fro day to day, til he koude it by rote;


And thanne he song it wel and boldely


Fro word to word acordynge with the note.


Twies a day it passed thurgh his throte,


To scoleward, and homward whan he wente;


On Cristes mooder set was his entente.




As I have seyd, thurghout the Juerie


This litel child, as he cam to and fro,


Ful murily than wolde he synge and crie


"O Alma redemptoris" evere-mo.


The swetnesse hath his herte perced so


Of Cristes mooder, that to hir to preye


He kan nat stynte of syngyng by the weye.




Oure firste foo, the serpent Sathanas,


That hath in Jewes herte his waspes nest,


Up swal, and seyde, "O Hebrayk peple, allas,


Is this to yow a thyng that is honest,


That swich a boy shal walken as hym lest


In youre despit, and synge of swich sentence,


Which is agayn oure lawes reverence?"




Fro thennes forth the Jewes han conspired


This innocent out of this world to chace.


An homycide therto han they hyred


That in an aleye hadde a privee place;


And as the child gan forby for to pace,


This cursed Jew hym hente and heeld hym faste,


And kitte his throte, and in a pit hym caste.




I seye that in a wardrobe they hym threwe,


Where as this Jewes purgen hire entraille.


O cursed folk of Herodes al newe,


What may youre yvel entente yow availle?


Mordre wol out, certeyn, it wol nat faille,


And namely ther thonour of God shal sprede,


The blood out crieth on youre cursed dede.




O martir, sowded to virginitee,


Now maystow syngen, folwynge evere in oon


The white lamb celestial -quod she-


Of which the grete evaungelist Seint John


In Pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon


Biforn this lamb and synge a song al newe,


That never, fleshly, wommen they ne knewe.




This poure wydwe awaiteth al that nyght


After hir litel child, but he cam noght;


For which, as soone as it was dayes light,


With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,


She hath at scole and elleswhere hym soght,


Til finally she gan so fer espie,


That he last seyn was in the Jewerie.




With moodres pitee in hir brest enclosed,


She gooth, as she were half out of hir mynde,


To every place where she hath supposed


By liklihede hir litel child to finde;


And evere on Cristes mooder, meeke and kynde


She cride, and atte laste thus she wroghte,


Among the cursed Jewes she hym soghte.




She frayneth, and she preyeth pitously


To every Jew that dwelte in thilke place,


To telle hir if hir child wente oght forby.


They seyde "nay"; but Jhesu, of his grace,


Yaf in hir thoght, inwith a litel space,


That in that place after hir sone she cryde,


Where he was casten in a pit bisyde.




O grete God, that parfournest thy laude


By mouth of innocentz, lo, heer thy myght!


This gemme of chastite, this emeraude,


And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,


Ther he with throte ykorven lay upright,


He Alma redemptoris gan to synge


So loude, that al the place gan to rynge.




The cristene folk that thurgh the strete wente


In coomen, for to wondre upon this thyng,


And hastily they for the provost sente.


He cam anon withouten tariyng,


And herieth Crist that is of hevene kyng,


And eek his mooder, honour of mankynde;


And after that, the Jewes leet he bynde.




This child, with pitous lamentacioun,


Uptaken was, syngynge his song alway,


And with honour of greet processioun


They carien hym unto the nexte abbay;


His mooder swownynge by his beere lay,


Unnethe myghte the peple that was theere


This newe Rachel brynge fro his beere.




With torment and with shameful deeth echon


This provost dooth the Jewes for to sterve,


That of this mordre wiste, and that anon.


He nolde no swich cursednesse observe;


"Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve";


Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,


And after that he heng hem, by the lawe.




Upon this beere ay lith this innocent


Biforn the chief auter, whil masse laste,


And after that, the abbot with his covent


Han sped hem for to burien hym ful faste,


And whan they hooly water on hym caste,


Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was hooly water,


And song O Alma redemptoris mater!




This abbot, which that was an hooly man,


As monkes been - or elles oghte be -


This yonge child,to conjure he bigan,


And seyde, "O deere child, I halse thee,


In vertu of the hooly Trinitee,


Tel me what is thy cause for to synge,


Sith that thy throte is kut to my semynge?"




"My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,"


Seyde this child, "and, as by wey of kynde,


I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon,


But Jesu Crist, as ye in bookes fynde,


Wil that his glorie laste and be in mynde,


And for the worship of his mooder deere,


Yet may I synge O Alma loude and cleere.




"This welle of mercy, Cristes mooder swete,


I loved alwey as after my konnynge;


And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,


To me she cam, and bad me for to synge


This antheme, verraily, in my deyynge,


As ye han herd, and whan that I hadde songe,


Me thoughte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge.




"Wherfore I synge, and synge I moot certeyn


In honour of that blisful mayden free,


Til fro my tonge of taken is the greyn.


And afterward thus seyde she to me,


`My litel child, now wol I fecche thee,


Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge ytake;


Be nat agast, I wol thee nat forsake.'"




This hooly monk, this abbot, hym meene I,


His tonge out-caughte, and took awey the greyn,


And he yaf up the goost ful softely;


And whan this Abbot hadde this wonder seyn,


His salte teeris trikled doun as reyn,


And gruf he fil al plat upon the grounde,


And stille he lay, as he had been ybounde.




The covent eek lay on the pavement,


Wepynge, and heryen Cristes mooder deere.


And after that they ryse, and forth been went,


And tooken awey this martir from his beere,


And in a tombe of marbul stones cleere


Enclosen they his litel body sweete.


Ther he is now, God leve us for to meete!




O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also


With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,


For it nis but a litel while ago,


Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable,


That of his mercy God so merciable


On us his grete mercy multiplie,


For reverence of his mooder Marie. Amen.