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An English view of Welsh lawlessness, 16th cent.

'Of the welchman that shrove him for breaking his fast on the Friday'

From A C. Mery Talys (London, 1526)
reprinted in A Hundred Merry Tales and other English jestbooks of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries,
ed. by P M Zall (University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 1963), 78-79.

Wales and the Marches in the early sixteenth century were notorious for violence and lawlessness; nonetheless this tale probably says more about English stereotypes than real Welsh conditions...


A Welchman dwelling in a wild place of Wales came to his curate in the time of Lent and was confessed. And when his confession was in manner at the end, the curate asked whether he had any other thing to say that grieved his conscience - which, sore abashed, answered no word a great while. At last, by exhortation of his ghostly father, he said that there was one thing in his mind that greatly grieved his conscience, which he was ashamed to utter for it was so grievous that he trowed [believed] God would never forgive him. To whom the curate answered and said that God's mercy was above all, and bad him not despair in the mercy of God; for whatsoever it was, if he were repentant that God would forgive him. And so, by long exhortation, at the last he showed it and said thus: 'Sir, it happened once that as my wife was making a cheese upon a Friday, I would have 'ssayed whether it had been salt or fresh, and took a little of the whey in my hand and put it in my mouth, and ere I was 'ware part of it went down my throat against my will - and so I brake my fast.' To whom the curate said: 'And if there be no other thing, I warrant God shall forgive thee.' So when he had well comforted him with the mercy of God, the curate prayed him to answer a question and to tell him truth. And when the Welchman had promised to tell the truth, the curate said that there were robberies and murders done nigh the place where he dwelt, and divers men found slain - and asked him whether he were consenting to any of them. To whom he answered and said yes and said he was party to many of them, and did help to rob and to slay divers of them. Then the curate asked him why he did not confess him thereof. The Welchman answered and said he took that for no sin, for it was a custom among them that when any booty came of any rich merchant riding, that it was but a good neighbor's deed one to help another when one called another. And so they took that but for good fellowship and neighborhood. Here ye may see that some have remorse of conscience of small venial sins and fear not to do great offenses without shame of the world or dread of God - and as the common proverb is: they stumble at a straw and leap over a block.