Medieval children lived in a rich culture of poetry: lullabies, nursery rhymes, songs, riddles, tongue-twisters, nonsensical verses and insults. They read or listened to ballads of Robin Hood, romances and comic tales. Poems were written to teach them how to behave, eat at meals, hunt game and even learn Latin and French.
Much of this poetry is unknown and lies beyond the interests of literary scholars. Nicholas Orme’s selection is the first attempt to make the whole scope of it accessible to general readers. From a wide knowledge of literary and historical sources, he has brought together an astonishing variety of verses that might have been known to children by about the year 1500, from sayings and songs to stories and school texts. The pieces in Latin and French have been translated, and those in medieval English modernised, while keeping as much as possible of their original character. Fleas, Flies and Friars provides a delightful way for modern readers of all ages to experience the medieval world through the eyes of children and teenagers.
From various traditions to the ways in which the writings helped them learn – Fleas, Flies and Friars held me captivated from beginning to end. – The Allure of Books
As ever with Orme, apparently knotty problems are accounted for with clarity and common sense, and the underlying narrative is at once laconic and sure-footed. – Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Jon Cannon