How awesome would it be to have records of children’s rhymes, verses and songs from the Middle Ages? In my opinion, it would be extremely interesting. Unfortunately, most such songs and riddles were passed down orally and have long since been lost. Fleas, Flies and Friars: Children’s Poety from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orme discusses what we do know.
You guys, Fleas, Flies and Friars is fairly short. You can learn a lot of interesting information extremely quickly – and raise your reading cred by picking up non-fiction. Nicholas Orme has written previously about both children in the Middle Ages and education during the time period. I definitely feel like I can trust his research! Even though most of the book is an anthology containing the poetry itself – I also found his notes to be fascinating.
From 13th century Latin textbooks written in verse to children’s school notes in the 14th and 15th centuries that included lines of poetry – Nicholas Orme gives us a comprehensive guide. One thing I found incredibly interesting is that instructive children’s verse was being widely printed as early as the 1470s. When I think about publishing during that time, I mostly think of things like Bibles. I’m glad Fleas, Flies and Friars was able to school me in that regard.
Nicholas Orme also explains how he chose what to include in his anthology, and how it is different from what has been published previously. He only included what can be (mostly) proven to have been written for children, not just all verse that could have been suitable for children. The exceptions are writings that illustrate certain aspects of childhood in the Middle Ages.
I want to quote so much of it at you guys! You have no idea. From the awesome riddles to the “catastrophic accident” verses (think Humpty Dumpty or Jack and Jill), I really enjoyed getting to read the poetry in Fleas, Flies and Friars.
Reading the various verses and poetry gave a very interesting picture as to life for children in the Middle Ages. From various traditions to the ways in which the writings helped them learn – Fleas, Flies and Friars held me captivated from beginning to end. I love reading about the medieval time period, so I may very well be picking up more of Nicholas Orme’s writing in the future.