Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Today's research snippet. The Miller who stole the nuts

This is an English medieval comic tale. This telling dates to the 16thC but there are much earlier versions of the same from the 13thC. It was also known in France. Millers and tailors often come in for ridicule and are cast as almost pantomime villains and dupes. Priests too. The tales always have morals.

The Miller who stole the nuts.
There was a certain rich farmer who had a great love of nuts. He planted trees of filberts and other nut trees in his orchard and looked after them well all his life. When he died he made his executors promise to bury a bag of nuts with him in his grave, and they carried out his intentions and faithfully did so.
The same night after he was buried, a miller in a white coat came to the man's garden intending to steal a bag of nuts. On the way he met a tailor in a black coat, who was one of his shiftless friends, and told him what he was up to. The tailor revealed to him in return that he intended to steal a sheep and so they both agreed each to carry on with his own project and afterwards to meet up and celebrate in the church porch. Whoever came first would wait for the other.
The Miller got his nuts, and was the first to get to the church porch and waited there for the tailor, occupying his time by sitting and cracking and eating nuts.
it happened that the sexton of the church came to ring the curfew evening Bell. When he looked in the porch and saw someone all in white cracking nuts he thought it was the dead man risen out of his grave cracking the nuts that were buried with him, and he rushed home again and told a cripple who was in his house what he had seen. The cripple when he heard it scolded the sexton, and said that if he could walk he would go there and exhort the spirit.
'By my truth' said the sexton 'if you dare do it, I'll carry you on my shoulders.' So they both agreed. The sexton took the cripple on his shoulders and came into the churchyard again. The Miller in the porch saw someone coming carrying something on his back and thought it was the tailor coming with the sheep. He got up to meet them, and as he came toward them he said, 'Is he fat? Is he fat?'
When the sexton heard him speak so, in a fright he threw the cripple down and said,`Fat or lean, take him there for me!' And he ran away, and the cripple by a miracle was cured and ran away as fast as the sexton, or faster.
This Miller when he saw that there were two and not one, thought someone had seen the tailor stealing the sheep, and were running after him to catch him. He was also afraid that someone had seen him stealing nuts. In a fright he left his nuts behind him and secretly as he could ran home to his mill.
Just after he had gone the tailir came with the stolen sheep on his shoulders to the church porch to look for the miller.And when he found there the nutshells, he supposed that his friend had been there and gone home, as he had indeed. So he took up the sheep again on his shoulders and went toward the mill.
But while this was going on the sexton had run away not to his own house but to the parish priest and explained to him how the spirit of the man had risen out of his grave, and was cracking nuts. So the priest said that he would go and exorcise him if the sexton would go with him. And so they both agreed. The priest put on his surplice and stole about his neck, and took holy water with him, and went with the sexton to the church. As soon as he entered the churchyard, the tailor with the white sheep on his shoulders intending, to go down to the mill, met them and thought that the priest in his surplice was the Miller in his white coat and he said to him,
'By God, I have him! I have him!' Meaning the sheep that he had stolen.
The priest, seeing the tailor all in black, and a white thing on his shoulders, thought it was the devil carrying away the spirit of the dead man that was buried, and ran away as fast as he could, taking the way down to the mill, and the sexton running after him. The tailor seeing the man following thought that someone was following the miller to do him some harm, and thought he would follow in case there was any need to help the miller; and he carried on until he came to the mill and knocked on its door. The miller, who was inside, asked who was there. The Taylor answered and said,
'By God, I have caught one of them, and made sure of him, and tied him fast by the legs.' Meaning the sheep that he had stolen and at that moment had on his shoulders tied fast by the legs. But the miller hearing him say that he had caught him tied fast by the legs, thought it was the constable who had caught the Tailor stealing the sheep, and tied him fast by the legs, and the miller was afraid that the constable had come to take him also for stealing the nuts. So he opened the back door and ran away as fast as he could.
When the Taylor heard the back door open, he went round the other side of the mill and there he saw the Miller running away. He stood there for a little while puzzled, with the sheep on his shoulders. The parish priest and the sexton who were standing near, just by the Millhouse, hiding themselves for fear, saw the tailor again with the sheep on the shoulders, and still thought it was the devil with the spirit of the dead man on his shoulders, and they ran away for fear. But because he did not know the ground well the priest jumped into a ditch, and was in almost over the head, and was almost drowned so that he shouted top of his voice 'Help! Help!'
Then the Taylor looked round and saw the Miller run one way and the sexton in another way, and heard the priest shout for help, and thought it was the constable with a lot of people shouting to help catch him and take him to prison for stealing the sheep. So he threw down the sheep and ran away in another direction as fast as he could.
And so everyone was frightened of the other for no reason.
By this you can easily see that it is ridiculous for anybody to be too frightened other thing before he sees some proof or cause.

Today's research photo from my archive: Medieval fish trap circa 1400-1500 but known throughout the Middle Ages on rivers and streams.   Museum of London


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