Minot, Laurence (DNB00)
|←Minns, Christopher||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 38
MINOT, LAURENCE (1300?–1352?), lyric poet, was probably born and bred in the north-east midlands of England. The evidence of this, however, is solely the character of his dialect, coupled with the frequency of his allusions to Yorkshire personages (cf. Hall, p. x). Of his life nothing is known on external authority. Even his name is attested only by his own mention of it in two passages of his poems (v. 1, and vii. 20: ‘Now Laurence Minot will bigin’). The family of Minot (Miniot, Minyot, Mynyot) was, however, widely dispersed in the fourteenth century, especially in Yorkshire and Norfolk (cf. Hall, Introd. pp. x-xii). It included knights, wealthy London merchants, and, in particular, a Thomas Mynot, the king's notary, who is known to have been officially employed in Flanders at the date of the capture of Guisnes (1352), which Minot in his last poem describes with an air of exceptional knowledge. Minot's status and occupation cannot be certainly determined. The view that he was a monk (Ritson) or a priest (Bierbaum) may be dismissed as baseless. The religious allusions are, indeed, not rare, but they are such as formed the common stock of middle-English romance, and their piety is that of the soldier, not of the cleric. A contemptuous allusion to being ‘polled like a frere’ (vii. 131) is also significant. Far more probable is the view that Minot was a soldierly minstrel, who wrote and sang mainly for the army, but was also favoured by the court. His songs appear, by their varying use of homelier and more cultivated metres, to be designed for audiences of varying rank. The alliterative long-line was in particular characteristic of the camp-song, as in the lines sung before Bannockburn (Brandl, Thomas of Erceldoune, p. 16). He expresses throughout a personal devotion to Edward III, whom he celebrates (vi. vii. xi.), according to the current interpretation of Merlin's prophecy, as the boar of Windsor, and may have moved in his circle; it is clear, however, that he was not always present on Edward's campaigns, since he describes (iii. 86 foll.) the king as taking part in the fight off Southampton, which the other evidence shows that he did not. Even his testimony to Edward's personal valour at Sluys (v. 78), which none of the English chroniclers mention, but which is attested by Le Bel, does not imply his presence at the fight. It is probable, however, that his songs are not founded solely upon hearsay. Though he has no set descriptions, he occasionally lets fall a detail which suggests the eye-witness. There are many signs that he wrote while the events were still fresh, in some cases while their final issue was still pending. The triumphant poem (vi.) on the siege of Tournay (which opened 23 July 1340) was evidently written originally between that date and 25 Sept. following, when Edward unexpectedly raised the siege. Slight changes have, however, been made in some of the poems (esp. in vi.) at a later date, doubtless by Minot himself. No inference can be drawn from the abrupt termination of the series at 1352. Since the series of stirring events by no means ceased then, it is likely that Minot either died or produced songs which have been lost. The absence of any development of style in the series makes it probable that he was not very young at the outset (1333).
Minot neither founded nor belonged to a school. In metrical form he presents, in various combinations, the accentual, alliterative verse of the west and north; and the syllabic, rhymed verse of the east and south; rhyme and some degree of alliteration being constant features. His most frequent measure is the popular six-line strophe (ii.v. ix. x. xi.), while the remaining five songs have each a distinct stanza of more artificial structure, or the rhymed couplet. The alliterative measure seems therefore to have grown upon him. He tends also to multiply the alliterating words without need, at times using double alliteration in the same line (e.g. x. 1). He also uses the refrain (ii.), and is fond of repeating the last words of a stanza in the opening of the next (i. vi. vii.) While thus profuse in metrical ornament, Minot cannot, however, be said to show any further care for literary art. He writes in impetuous haste, but without true lyric inspiration; and his energy often confuses his narrative instead of driving it home. But while Minot has no great literary value, and gives almost no new information, he embodies in a most vivid way the militant England of his day. He has but one subject, the triumph of England and the English king over French and Scots. The class divisions among Englishmen are for him wholly merged in the unity of England; himself probably of Norman origin, his habitual language is the strongest and homeliest Saxon. His verse is throughout inspired by savage triumph in the national successes. He has no elegiac or tender note. If he alludes to Bannockburn (ii. 1) it is in order to proclaim the vengeance of Halidon Hill. His account of the capitulation of Calais ignores the intervention of the queen (viii. 57 f.) Even the brilliant pageantry of fourteenth century warfare is only casually reproduced (vii. 46). He does not approach his Scottish rival, Barbour, either in humanity or in poetic power.
Minot's poems exist only in a manuscript in the Cotton Library of the British Museum (Galba, E. ix. fol. 52 foll.), written by a single hand in the early years of the fifteenth century. The scribe was unquestionably northern, but the evidence of the rhymes shows that the originals contained both northern and midland forms (e.g. pres. part. in -and; plur. pres. in -in, vii. 135).
The following is a list of Minot's extant poems. None of them has a title; but all (except iv.) are headed by a couplet in which the subject is announced: 1. ‘Lithes and I sall tell ʒow tyll | þe bataile of Halidon Hyll.’ 2. ‘Now for to tell ʒow will I turn | Of þe batayl of Banocburn.’ In reality, however a continuation of 1. 3. ‘How Edward þe king come in Braband | And toke homage of all þe land.’ 4. The first invasion of France, 1339. 5. ‘Lithes and þe batail I sal bigyn | Of Inglisch men and Normandes in þe Swyn.’ 6. ‘Herkins how King Edward lay | With his men bifor Tournay.’ 7. ‘How Edward at Hogges unto land wan | And rade thurgh France or ever he blan.’ The battle of Crécy. 8. ‘How Edward als þe romance sais | Held his sege bifor Calais.’ 9. ‘Sir David had of his men grete loss | With Sir Edward at þe Nevil Cross.’ 10. ‘How King Edward and his menʒe | Met with þe Spaniardes in þe see.’ 11. ‘How gentill Sir Edward with his grete engines | Wan with his wight men þe castell of Gynes.’
Hall is inclined to attribute to Minot also the ‘Hymn to Jesus Christ and the Virgin’ (Early English Text Society, No. 26, p. 75) on grounds of style and language.
Minot's poems, discovered by Tyrwhitt, were first printed by Ritson, under the title, ‘Poems on Interesting Events in the Reign of King Edward III, written in the year mccclii. by Laurence Minot,’ 1795 and 1825. They were reissued by T. Wright in ‘Political Poems,’ i. 58 sq. (1859). Two good recent editions exist: ‘Laurence Minot's Lieder,’ von Wilhelm Scholle (Quellen und Forschungen, No. 52), 1884, with a valuable study of the grammar and metre; and ‘The Poems of Laurence Minot,’ by Joseph Hall, with admirable introduction and illustrative notes (Clarendon Press, 1887). Mätzner (Sprachproben) has also printed i-iv.; Wülcker, ‘Altenglisches Lesebuch,’ ii. and ix.; Morris and Skeat, ‘Specimens,’ iii. iv. and part of vii.[Scholle's and Hall's Introductions and the Poems themselves; Ten Brink's Englische Litteraturgeschichte, i. 404 f.; Bierbaum's Ueber Laurence Minot und seine Lieder, 1876; Brandl's Mittelenglische Literatur in Paul's Grundriss der german. Philologie, p. 648.]