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Planted seeds of love and soul:

some formative context for the Plant and Plantagenet names, including some contemporary usage of the word 'plant'.

Context of where and when. On this page of the website, I do not neglect places as far south as northern France for the formative Plant surname, while considering in particular the main Plant homeland in the NW Midlands of England – this region includes life in the Chester palatinate extending into north Wales where Welsh Law was being subjugated under an over-arching 'Plantagenet' royal authority. Around 40 miles to the east, along the old Earlsway from Chester, some fourteenth-century Plants travelled back and forth across the county border between NE Staffordshire and SE Cheshire, as is evident in some recorded charges of trespass. Just south of the border, there were the core lands of Dieulacres abbey which had also retained the Poulton lands that had been in a troubled theatre of conflict near Chester, from where Poulton abbey had been relocated in 1214 and renamed as Dieulacres to escape raids by the Welsh.

Developed by JSP starting with Dr John S Plant (2000-11) in Roots and Branches, Issue 20 onwards with subsequent additions.

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Prologue. It is said there will never be a History of Britain for the nineteenth-century reign of Queen Victoria since we know far too much about it for a single account. On the other hand, it is more a matter of making do with the sparse information that has survived down the centuries for the medieval origins of surnames. That said, there is some detail out there and, by seeking it out and by accumulating the surviving detail, we can challenge over-simplistic generalisations for the formation of a surname such as Plant.

At least we know enough to see that times were very different then, in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England, as well as in Western Europe more widely. Progressively more clues can still be found in surviving documents and writings. For example, I here include some consideration of the likely involvement of the peasants with the surrounding vegetation alongside the detailed and erudite writings concerning vegetal life and soul, written by certain scholastics amongst the aristocracy. The literate clerics themselves are of interest, not least because their class oversaw the early Latin documents in which we find early mentions of the Plant name.

The word 'plant' has a clear modern connection to vegetation in particular. In the ancient teachings of Aristocle in particular the emphasis is rather different from now and these writings were being rediscovered in western Europe in the early thirteenth century — the so-called scholastics were actively developing a revised view concerning the vegetal and man's vegetative soul. It was likely not until the fourteenth century or later that many of the newer ideas were finding their way more fully through monastic and church teachings. Other writings on the vegetal had long been adopted by the so-called Fathers of the Church and these earlier neoPlantonic beliefs remained influential through the thirteenth century, persisting alongside the new for long after the late medieval times of surname formation.

In a more down-to-earth fashion, the meanings of the words planta and geneat for example can be associated with early evidence for the name Plante Genest or Plantegenest (sic) which was a nickname given to count Geffrey the Fair of Anjou who, by 1154, had posthumously fathered an English royal dynasty. This dynasty is now typically called Angevin or Plantagenet, even though there is remarkably little written evidence for the use of the latter name in early formative surname times – this was not least likely because some of the detailed evidence indicates a disrespectful allusion, particularly in the mid thirtheenth century, for this subsequently royal name. It could be that the form 'planta-geneat' kept Geffrey's nickname alive in everyday 'tittle tattle' whilst the name remained largely unrecorded in formal records. For example, 'geneat' meant a horse-borne servant and there is one isolated record of the name, with the spelling Plauntegenet, for a servant with duties of transporting a garderobe (toilet) in the mid thirteenth century. It was not until a couple of centuries later, in the mid-to-late fifteenth century, that Plantagenet appears in surviving records as a heritable royal surname.

A satirical irony of both deference and disrespect carries over to some other names, including the thirteenth-century name Plantefolie around the times of the first and second Barons' Wars. For deference, elevated vegetal characteristics had been included in a laudatory twelfth-century biography of Geffrey the Fair that was dedicated to his son, king Henry II. This mentions the Plantegenest name, though the eventual addoption of Plantagenet as a noble surname only comes to light in surviving records for around three centuries later. Rather like Plantefolie during the thirteenth-century Barons Wars, the fifteenth-century record of the name Plantagenet for a noble occurs during the times of dynastic battles now called the 'Wars of the Roses' when deference to opposing combatants was evidently often lacking.

As part of considering why the Plant name was so popular in its mid-to-late fourteenth-century NW Midlands homeland, I shall consider more than one possible sense to 'plant' with different layers of meaning likely suiting diferent parts of the contemporary community. Early Plants in this, their most populous homeland, could have been familiar for instance with Welsh customs to their west, especially around the coincident times of the conquest of north Wales involving lords who amassed with their 'plantageneat' forces on the nearby Welsh border near Chester. This conquest had begun under king John in the early thirteenth century before it was largely completed by Edward I towards that century's end. Clues can also be gleaned from the literature of two local and contemporary Middle English poets, namely William Langland and the anonymous so-called Pearl (or Gawain) poet. For these times, vegetal qualities and planted craft and a translation of the plant soul from arabic into Latin as well as the translation of the Latin bible into Middle English all add to a heady mix of circumstance.

For Plant(e), there was not least a French sense of planté, meaning (living at or near) 'a planted place'. The many senses of the word plant include ones in French, Old and Middle English, Latin and Welsh. As an introductory gloss, they can be taken very loosely to concern the planting of seeds of foundation for love, life, and the establishment of faith. The Latin word planto/planta, as both verb and noun, had made its way into various European languages, in which it had developed some differing traits before the late medieval times of surname formation.

A dance of virtues and vices
Personified human traits
The 13th-century 'Roman de la Rose'

For the secular aristocracy, their culture was wrapped, not least, in a fashionable concept of 'courtly love'. This secullar cult of love, alongside a more religious love of God, had permeated the Angevin Empire in particular from Aquitaine, north through Normandy into England. The fourteenth-century Pearl poet, near the Cheshire-Staffordshire border in the NW Midlands of England, was well aware of this contemporary focus on courtly love as well as faith; he was well versed in both the religious sacristy and the noble bower, along with his more local knowledge of the conditions in the main Plant homeland. He recounted both Old Testament and chivalrous Arthurian tales and associated purity with ideal forms of aristocratic behaviour, valuing not just inner grace but especially the outwards manifestation of a chivalric code. For example in his poem 'Cleanness', he transforms a passage from the thirteenth-century poem Roman de la Rose from the romantic to the heavenly plane of the mighty Lord God in his kingdom. This was contemporary with the so-called late medieval exegesis, of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, allowing a pairing of the spiritual with literal menaings, as I shall explain better later below. In parallel with this, it seems that both literal and symbolic meanings can add layers to our understanding of the senses of Plant and related names. Much realignment of our modern minds is needed for a full appreciation of those times – my aim is to piece together some aspects of contemporary life and beliefs that are relevant to understanding the early Plant surname more fully. Any failure to make enough sense of this is of course no-one's fault but mine; whilst, being too definite about all the details would also be a fault, for misrepresenting the inevitable uncertainties we have about those 'misty' times.

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1. Introduction

There were various early geographical links that can be associated with the formative Plant surname. For example, the largest Plant family descended down an ancestral male line that had been in Gascony, SW France a few millennia ago. It might be relevant that back then, in the Bronze Age, there had been trade reaching northwards from Gascony up the coast of modern France, such as up the Atlantic coast to Cornwall in SW England to access products made from its relatively rare tin, along with copper; these being the two essential ingredients for alloying bronze.

For the formation of the surname more recently, the spelling Plante was in Normandy in northern France by 1180, across the English Channel from the south coast of England. Then in 1204, the English crown lost Normandy, displacing some of the Norman lords from their lands there, with some becoming more focused on consolidating their lands in England. This produced an extra impetus for a transfer of culture from Normandy, if not large numbers of people, such as to a place that was to become the subsequent most populous Plant homeland; this was in Leekfrith especially, in north Staffordshire in the NW Midlands of England. By 1214, in this landscape that was to see the Plant name flourishing most, there was an abbey with an enduring monastic link from Poulton in the northern Welsh Marches, from where it relocated its main base to Leekfrith. The name Plant (variously spelled) can be especially associated with this 'Plant-relevant' abbey that had been refounded and renamed Dieulacres.

A local lord Henry de Audley had been in command in the Welsh Marches during 1223-46 and an Audley manor adjoined the aforesaid new core lands of Dieulacres abbey. The Audleys also held several other lands, mainly throughout north Staffordshire and into adjoining parts of Shropshire; this accords well with a distribution for a majority of the Plants beyond their most populous lands around the abbey. This is made progressively clear by an accumulation of better surviving records for the Plant name distribution; these become progressively more fully available through the next few centuries.

The most populous lands for the Plants, that is the core lands of Dieulacres, had been donated to the abbey by the earl of Chester in 1214, whilst he was in process of losing his lands in western Normandy; he had held considerable lands there with some near the old Norman motherhouse of Poulton, called Savigny abbey. The old Savignac tradition became progressively lost as Dieulacres became more fully aligned with the Cistercian order of nearby abbeys around the northern border of Staffordshire, though Dieulacres abbey retained an advantageous noble patronage, which had moreover become that of the heir to the English crown in the mid thirteenth century.

Such geographical links are relatively easy to describe whereas a more nuanced discussion is needed for some associated beliefs. These survive in some contemporary writings that inform us further about the context of the early Plant name. For example, the environment of the most populous Plant homeland had a distinctive mix of secular and religious lords and the poems of the local so-called Pearl-poet, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, broached an amendment to religious piety by re-aligning it with chivalrous lordly behaviour, seemingly to appeal to those in this dialect region who aspired to a courtly ideal. I shall be discuss such matters further below.

The tales of the local Pearl-poet, also known as the Gawain-poet, can be placed alongside other aspects of context for the formative Plant name that can be teased out of the medieval record. For example, Christopher Dyer notes that most people worked the land, beneath an aristocracy and an all-embracing church; and only 10%, rising to 20%, lived in towns. Vegetation was all around. As a basic ingredient of life, the vegetative loomed large as an integral part of the contemporary beliefs. This, as well as the accompanying culture of an erstwhile French noble influence, is relevant to a deeper understanding of the origins of the Plant surname and, in particular, its historical and cultural context of meaning. The word 'plant' occurs in three of the four poems in the Pearl-poet's sole surviving manuscript, though not in the least religious Gawain poem.

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1.1 Distinctiveness

Ascribed surnames needed to be distinctive at a given location, if one nearby family was to be distinguished from another. At first sight, this seems at odds with the fact that plants in the modern sense of vegetation were not in themselves distinctive at all: they were a commonplace of everyday life. From the modern times of the mid twentieth century onwards, several surname dictionaries just stated in their brief format that Plant meant a planter of some type of vegetation. However, planting something unspecified could be thought to apply to almost one and all in a peasant community, unless there is some evident additional detail to guide us further.

There is some supporting evidence that a few similar names referred to planting a specific crop. However, this should be set in a context of meanings that are specific to medieval times. For example, around the relevant times there were innovations that involved the planting of legumes as part of a crop rotation system [Dyer pp 166-7, 250]. This might explain the isolated occurrence of the name Plantebene in Norfolk [Pipe Rolls in 1199 and 1200]. For this, there was a longtime established meaning for bene giving 'plant well' and we might well debate whether this was the dominant meaning. Instead, we could take it as no mere coincidence that beans, as a method of soil improvement, satisfies two meanings such that Plantebene can become literal as well as symbolic: plant well and plant beans.

[DYER, Christopher (2009) Making a living in the Middle Ages: the people of Britain 850 to 1520AD, pp 166-7, 250]

In upland areas, the main economic surplus for local lords, both secular and monastic, evidently related to animals and most especially England's lucrative trade in wool. It seems likely that most peasants in remote areas would have preferred to plant at least some crops in preference to fetching all their vegetables from afar. That said, even in a remote area, a meaning for Plant of planting some unspecified crop remains frustratingly vague; we might hence look for some further clue in the environment or landscape or local dialect. One guess at this has been the meaning 'gardener'. As another, we might consider that this planting activity could have been noteworthy in the sense of planting (i.e. establishing) a survivable place amongst marsh, moorland and forest. This more readily fits the circumstance of the most populous Plant homeland. The name might then have an additional level of meaning in the contemporary beliefs which allow a sense of planting an adequate 'life force' in a challenging circumstance, not least through a contemporary belief in a scholastic conduit of vitality from vegetation to animals to man.

More generally, it seems that some such extra sense is needed for Plant beyond a vague modern meaning of 'planting plants'. Also, caution needs to be taken with the medieval context of the name. In particular, the evidence indicates that the noun 'plant' meant something different from the more common Middle English word 'herb' which back then was more all embracing, applying to all forms of non-woody vegetation. This differs from our modern word usage and suggests that the meaning of 'plant' has now changed to replace much of the medieval meaning of 'herb'. To this we can add that Latin was the essential language of record keeping, including for the first evidence of the surname Plant, and vegere [Latin] meant to enliven. The word 'plant' at that time was more closely associated with something freshly set down (planted) and springing up (such as a new shoot). In particular, there was an emphasis on God's planted craft. I shall describe this further below, such as in connection with king Alfred's Christian translations from Latin into Old English as well as in connectopn with the several works of the Middle English Pearl poet who, as already outlined in this introduction, was local to our identified, most populous Plant homeland.

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1.2 Distinctive sense from elsewhere

Many mentions of the Plant surname are in the north-west midlands of England not far from Wales, where the Welsh meaning of plant provides a different emphasis for our sought-after distinctiveness beyond some unspecified sense of just men 'planting plants'.

As a possible solution, we can consider that a paternal family might have come from a region where the Welsh meaning 'children' of plant was prevalent; this being a rather different emphasis of God's planted craft and man's planted seed. Surnames commonly relate to a father (e.g. the surname Johnson). The Welsh meaning 'children' seems to hint at a somewhat similar type of surname though, since all children had fathers, this then still leaves us with the question of distinctiveness. We might add however that the paternal family could have retained something of a distinctive foreign culture, albeit in the context of an English surname. With the Welsh sense in England, this is a different development of a more general sense of planting an 'enlivening vital force' which then applies to generating a new generation of humans rather than just renewing vegetation by horticulture; hence, the word plant here does not necessarily imply the fertile production of food for human survival or decoration; but the generation of new humans themselves along with an intellective soul from God.

For the first known evidence of the Plant surname in this region, we have that Richard Plant was granted rights to coal at Ewelowe in Flintshire in 1301 [Pipe Rolls]. This was in the area of deeper pink in the map below, which was in north Wales though it had been held recurrently by the earls of Chester. The town of Chester is shown alongside the pink as a much smaller area of green. This and the adjoining pink had formed a main base for the English since earlier in the thirteenth century and, in the 1290s, it had served in the English crown's conquest of north Wales. The Welsh meaning of plant would likely have been known to the aforesaid Richard Plant here and to those recording his grant of English rights, though Richard is recorded with an English style of surname, perhaps suggesting a predominant loyalty to the English crown.

When suitable better records for east Cheshire first become available, there is a Ranulph Plont holding land in 1383-4 at Rainow, which is in Macclesfield Hundred. This Hundred is shown as '4' in the map below. The moderate to small land holding of Ranulph Plont had previously belonged to John Walshe, with the same rent and place-name as in 1383-4. It had been held by the Walshe family in 1351-2 with a possibility of continuity though it might have become vacant in the intervening years because of the ravages of the Great Pestilence comonly called the Black Death.

The Cheshire Hundreds
Cheshire Hundreds

In an English surname, the name of John Walshe means Welsh. The name of Ranulph Plont, who followed on after, might accordingly have meant a 'Welsh offspring'. That could have made the name distinctive enough even though, as already noted, all children had a father. In other words, the name could have gained its distinctiveness by means of the changing culture by Welsh conquest nearby.

It has been suggested less convincingly that the Welsh name Ianto (pronounced Jan-toh) could have given rise to a confusion with Lanto. Just as the surname Price is often said to derive from the Welsh ap Rhees (son of Rhees), it has been claimed that the surname Plant might have derived from the Welsh ap Ianto (son of Ianto). However this phonetic reasoning seems neither strong nor necessary given a wider likely meaning 'Welsh offspring' that could have been distinctive enough without further embellishment. With this wider sense, we have a Richard Plant in the conquered Welsh borderlands followed by the successive names Walshe and Plont (sic) to the east with this situation suggesting a possible sense to Plant of just simply a 'Welsh' child [note that Plont is the standard spelling of Plant in this dialect region, with the letter 'a' here generally being replaced by 'o' in many similar words at that time].

As a far further flung conjecture, someone called Plante could have arrived in the main Plant homeland region with a Gascon contingent of crossbowmen, who were used in the north Wales campaign of conquest. That would lead to considering a possible Langue d'Oc sense to the name. Perhaps more likely, the name could have arrived with a pre-existing culture for vegetal names in Normandy, as I will detail more fully below. For example, a transfer of such a culture from northern France is consistent with the Longspee-Audley hypothesis which I describe in some detail elsewhere in this website. Such an arrival could have brought an inherent culture loosely associated with a Plante Genest noble line (not yet spelled Plantagenet) with such a lord bringing the notion of Plant(e) as an accepted name, given the pre-existence of the name Plante in Normandy by 1180. As I will explain further below, a Plante Genest 'cultural affinity' could have valued sense in contemporary vegetal beliefs along with associated concepts of the word plant that had existed since ancient times.

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1.3 Several small families and one large one

For the Plants' subsequently-known most-populous homeland, the first suitable records date from around the mid fourteenth century. These are in the Court Rolls of the Lordship of Macclesfield, which covers much of east Cheshire [region '4' in the map above]. This contains the Pennine foothills of Macclesfield Forest which merge into the so-called Staffordshire Moorlands immediately to the south.

The first known precise location for a Plant here was at the Black Prince's vaccary at Midgley. This was right at the border of SE Cheshire with NE Staffordshire. Perhaps a scribe of the Macclesfield Court might have allocated the Plant name to a small group of men living near this vaccary, which was for breeding and rearing oxen and cows; we might perhaps think of it, in modern terms, as an 'industrial scale plant' for dairy and for meat and not least for oxen needed for transport.

At least as a hypothetical thought experiment, we might imagine the Plant name being applied to several men in much the same place at much the same time, since that could help explain why the name became so populous here. Perhaps more widely than the vaccary, their shared venture and a shared name might have been related in the records to this or another 'planted' enterprise perhaps involving the taming of local land and the planting of some such settlement amongst the marsh and forest and moorland.

In particular, our latest y-dna evidence, together with documentary records, indicates that there were several genetically-distinct Plant families around NE Staffordshire of which one grew unusually large. We can imagine a large size of family here happening in one of the following two ways. First, starting with several unrelated men, there would be an increased chance that the family of just one of them would grow unusually large. As a second possibility, we might imagine that several of the initiating men were distantly related in the male line, giving them an 'early start' with time to grow to their already sturdy family size further along with the allocation of the Plant name to several of them. The final size of a large male-line family is especially sensitive to a 'fast' or 'early' start which provides a large multiplier to all of the family's subsequent size.

For a fast start, some form of good fortune could have played a role. For example, elsewhere at Halesowen around 1300, the wealthier peasants had an average of 5.1 children as against 1.8 for the cottagers. Also, mortality during the Black Death, which reached and raged in northern England between 1348-49, could be as low as 27% in the case of tenants in chief of the crown but as high as 70% for some peasant groups [Dyer pp 158, 161, 271-2].

As another factor of 'random' chance, a large family could have had a preponderance of sons in its early generations to set it off in its male-line to a 'fast start'. To fill in some details, the y-DNA evidence indicates that the large Plant family spread quite early with traces to its north in east Cheshire and especially through north and western Staffordshire, as well as going on to migrate further afield [JSP+REP (Apr 2020) JoONS 13(10), 11-13]. The many lands of the Audley lords, not only in NE Staffordshire but also across much of the northern half of the county, could have been instrumental in the transfer of the main Plant family across a broad region. Moreover, the Audleys had married an heiress of an illegitimate line from count Geffrey Plante Genest, who was the father of the so-called Plantagenet kings and others. This Longspée-Audley link could have perpetuated a 'vegetal' style of name that had originated in the same cultural context as the nickname Plante Genest; both names are found first in northern France, as I will enlarge upon further below.

This still leaves us, however, with our evident finding that there was more than one male-line family that had been allocated the Plant name at much the same place and time. As a possibility, we might consider for example the medieval Welsh custom that land was to be shared by all descendants, male and female, legitimate or not, as long as each said child was recognised by the father. As a further twist, there appears to have been a lack of official scrutiny in the form of parish records in much of the NE Staffordshire Moorlands. Here, many church records are missing until much later centuries, whereas some other early assorted records reveal that there were many Plants here; this leaves us with little or no direct evidence, aside from the y-DNA of living descendants, about how they were related.

The large Plant family might have started out early for example with many sons and also daughters including offspring that were illegitimate. This could have been followed by further such generations of children. There could have been descents that included female links breaking the genetic male line while perpetuating the same surname Plant. In other words, the several male-line genetically-separated Plant families found here could have descended from one medieval man but with several female links to complement the fast start in the male line, explaining the several y-DNA distinct families as well as one large one.

To add a bit of further detail of possible relevance, there were several Welsh men in the late fourteenth-century Macclesfield Court Rolls for east Cheshire. They are commonly mentioned in connection with fighting and affrays. If the Plant name were initially specific to the offspring of a Welshman, then there were several others who could have fathered 'Welsh' ofspring with their characteristic name Plant. I provide some further details of Macclesfield Court mentions of Welshmen, in Appendix C of a paper [here].

Such customs raise the question of what exactly do we consider to be a separate Plant family, apart from genetic evidence for separate male lines of descent. A similar question has been debated in connection with Scottish clans. Though the English custom of a surname descending down male lines provides a good general rule, it might not be entirely safe to assume everywhere that it nearly always misses out descending through females, not to mention the possible inclusion of family friends and servants in a 'clan' name for example. I shall return to such considerations below.

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1.4 A Celtic conundrum

Pre-English tongues had been spoken in Shropshire. This county is immediately to the south of western Cheshire, between north Wales and Staffordshire as indicated in the map below. Different meanings of 'plant', Welsh and English, could have long been intermixing around this general area.

The north-west midlands counties of England
H = Main Plant Homeland
NW Midlands Counties of England

Different early influences are evident for example in connection with the Shropshire river Tern, which is the Tren of early Welsh poetry. This gives the river a straightforward Welsh etymology: strong, powerful. On the other hand, its source at Maer Hall in north-west Staffordshire, is no doubt related to the Old English 'mere' meaning lake or pool. [D.N.Parsons (2013) Pre-English river names and [ancient] British survival in Shropshire, Nomina 36, p113.]

Such evidence suggests that a 'Celtic' meaning of plant could have been known in the main Plant homeland [H in the map] which was not so very distant in north-east Staffordshire. A locally developed sense of 'offspring' for the 'plant' might have been slightly different from the usually assumed modern Welsh meaning 'children'. Certainly somewhat later, there is a ca.1500 text at Chester referring to the marvellously growing foetus of St Werburge as 'a pure and perfect plant'. Also in 1621 in Cheshire, the word 'plant' is recorded for a newly-trained young man. [JSP (2005), Nomina 28, 115-133 here] The latter passage refers to a grandchild of Sir John Savage stating that: 'his Grandchild, then a young Plant and newly sent to the Innes of Court, to be trained up answerably to his Birth and Dignity ... That hopeful Plant, that is the apparent Heir Of all his glory, and this great Discent ... That Savages may still be excellent'.

Here Savage clearly refers to this young man's surname though there is also some play on the words 'savages' and Plant. The Savages were important landowners in Cheshire since the 1370s. Though their sixteenth-century seat of Rocksavage was near the Welsh border, any connection of 'plant' here to a savage wildmen of Wales seems to be a rather tenuous thought at best. The Savage name aside, the wording resonates somewhat with the vegetal, as in the description of the twelfth-century Geffrey Plante Genest who, as a young man in Normandy, had been ascribed the ancient vegetal qualities of: untainted and upright; bearing the generative power; as well as, amenable to training [Appendix of JSP+REP (Apr 2017) JoONS 12(3), 18-20, here] though this requires some understanding of medieval beliefs. These more fully described vegetal qualities tally to an extent with the senses 'newly trained' and 'excellent' in the above quote as well as the reference to 'Grandchild', which relates to the vegetal generative power. In particular, the reference to St Werburgh as a foetus, described as a 'plant' untainted by carnal sin, refers to a single 'child' rather than children, which is clearly a variation of the more usually assumed modern Welsh meaning.

Though also near Wales, the situation was different for north Somerset and south Gloucestershire Plants, where for example Robert Plonte of Saltford (c.1280-1303) is described as 'once Bailif of Marsfeld'. He had property in Bath [Bath BC records]. Here, the Plant surname did not proliferate as much as in the name's most populous homeland to the north, even if one considers that it might have given rise to the similar name Plente (later Plenty). As a bailiff, Roger Plonte's duties would no doubt have involved the collection of some form of tribute from the peasantry for the benefit of a local lord, placing him in a so-called 'Franklyn class' of peasants.

English authority was established over south Wales much earlier than in the north. There might have been less of a Welsh meaning to 'plant' in the south than at Chester where there might more likely have been some degree of resonance with the Welsh meaning 'children'. More particularly near Bath, there was an early link from Robert Plonte's location 'of Saltford' to Coutances in western Normandy. This then brings in the name of Durand Plante who was in Coutances in 1180 [as I outline more fully elsewhere on this website here]. By the thirteenth century there were also instances of the Plant name in east Normandy and south-east England and also Lincolnshire. These early occurrences seem substantially less likely to have had anything to do with Welsh culture. These separate instances point more to a vegetal fashion spread from the continent not least in connection with a royal 'Plante Genest' cultural heritage along with a relatively widespread 'religious' sense of God's 'planted' craft or virtue.

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1.5 Likely relevance of the homeland Pearl-poet

For the main Plant homeland, we have a helpful bonus: the local anonymous so-called Pearl-poet. His poetry is dated to the second half of the fourteenth century and is contemporary with surviving Plant records, which date back locally to the 1360s though it is not known to what extent the Plants may have been here earlier.

Homeland poetry: The Gawain poem
Gawain Manuscript
Gawain poem

In particular, the Pearl-poetry points to possible explanations of why the Plant name is so abundant here, in its most populous homeland. Not least, it praises non-sacerdotal chastity amongst its religious teachings, sidesteping a need for celibacy. This fully sanctions fertile offspring amongst associates of the abbey of Dieulacres, with its relatively late foundation (1214) and royal patronage.

Though an absence of celibacy remains questionable for its monks, this poet's lesser form of chastity is more readily applicable to the abbey's 'lay brethren'. Such brethren could hence thrive in the abbey's core lands as 'religious offshoots' of Dieulacres abbey, whose name means 'God increase it'. It is generally held more widely, for a Cisterciam abbey, that such religious 'brethren' typically progressed to renting property amongst the abbey's nearby moorland granges. This tallies with early Plants who are found here in precisely that circumstance. There are records of such Plants being granted permission from the abbot to build and dwell in the abbey's nearby moorlands by 1406 and, by 1543, several had progressed to renting the abbey's land and property.

In my introduction below to the local Pearl-poetry, I shall include some relevant aspects, such as this poet's re-alignment of medieval religion with knightly ideals. This is appropriate for this locality of populous Plants under a mix of secular as well as religious authority. In particular, in this developing Plant homeland, the core lands of Dieulacres enjoyed secular connections such as to the abbey's founder, the earl of Chester. Also, the monastery building neighboured lands of the noble Audley Lords. The local poetry helps us to understand better some of the aspects of the Plants' surrounding circumstance.

For the cultural situation more widely, the French influence on Middle English literature had originated in the twelfth-century court of king Henry II. [Burrow pp 4-5]

[BURROW, J A, Medieval Writers and their Work: Middle English Literature 1100-1500, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 2008]

It was also this royal court that saw the first evidence for the Plantegenest (sic) name (ca.1173-80). The first medieval evidence for the Plante surname (1180) was contemporary with this and was located not far from the contemporary historical account of Geffrey Plantetgenest by Wace in western Normandy, here with the spelling Plante Genest (sic) who became the father of a long 'Plantagenet' line of English kings [further details here and 3.2 below]. Moving on to the Dieulacres homeland of populous Plants in the English NW Midlands, the 'Plantagenet' royal court's influence had arrived by the times of its local Pearl-poetry which provides some rare glimpses into the local mix of customs and circumstance.

1.5.1 Some general aspects of the poetry

In the sole surviving manuscript of the Pearl-poet's poetry, dated around the poet's own times, there is his fourteenth-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight referred to as the Gawain poem. This provides insights that are in keeping with the noble and royal and religious associations of the abbey and, hence as such, it is evidently relevant to the Plants in their most populous homeland. As a general charactertic of medieval culture, the constraints of Christian tradition held sway over nobles and peasants alike and this is evident in a particular way in the Pearl-poetry.

The manuscript

The voice of religious scepticism does not speak in Middle English literature. However, medieval faith was a varied and ecclectic mix, which allowed individuals a good deal of lattitude, not least when writing poetry. [Burrow p90] Knowing the particular scriptual interpretations in the Pearl-poet's poems is relevant to our understanding of this particular homeland locality, as well as being a valuable source for those medieval times more generally.

As Burrows notes, 'Most stories, if they are told with any richness of human detail, tend to forfeit a straight forward relationship to exemplified truth". [Burrows p119] This applies to the Pearl-poet's poems Gawain and Pearl. The more traditional style was to announce a moral point and follow it with a much simplified story (exemplum) to illustrate the point directly. This is now out of the more modern fashion, such as found in novels, though that archaic style of exempla need not necessarily be dull, as Burrows illustrates for the case of the Pearl-poet's poem Patience. [Burrows p121] Its first line (in modern spelling) is, 'Patience is a point, though it displease often' and it goes on to elaborate on the tale of Jonah, with much lively detail, while stressing his frequent impatience in contrast to the patience of God.

In the literature of those times more generally, virtues and vices often play out as named characters with capitalised names such as Truth, Mercy, Righteousness, Peace. [Burrow p101] This appears in a more subtle fashion with the Pearl-poet, such as in his Gawain poem, as in [Gawain lines 2379-80], 'Because of my fear of your blow, cowardice taught me [me taught] to come to terms [acorde me] with covetousness and so be untrue to [forsake] my nature...'. Here the characteristics such as cowardice act as though persons against Gawain's knightly qualities though, here, this is less intrusive than having specifically labelled people with capitalised names; here instead, a more spontaneous personification springs out of the linguistic idioms of the language itself, in this poet's Middle English. [Burrow p101]

A higher level of abstract thought had its own language, namely Latin, [Burrow p91] which was also the language of early mentions in terse records of the Plant name. Leaving linguistic interpretation aside, Middle English meanings are relatively plain and straightforward by comparison to much that is written in Latin, though difficulties can arise when the poems turn to an agenda of reasoning, not least because of our modern ignorance of the medieval so-called Vulgate bible (Latin) of those times [its Middle English translation by Wycliffe had barely begun]. Any reasoned agenda was generally based on allusions to this sacred book as well as to God's other 'book', the world of everything He created in Nature: both of these were to be 'read' and interpreted as a basis for Middle English discourse and reasoning. [Burrow pp 90, 102 etc]

As already noted, this poetry was local, in the mid-to-late fourteenth-century, to plentiful Plants and the core lands of Dieulacres abbey. Hence, for this most populous Plant homeland, we can refer to such an article as one by David Aers, in which he considers especially the Pearl-poet's aforesaid Gawain poem. This is the least religious and most courtly of this poet's poems and it is widely regarded as a tour de force of Middle English literature, typically mentioned as the best example of Middle English Arthurian poetry. This is in spite of its limited accessibility to modern ears because of its relatively difficult and archaic dialect that, even back then, was particular to a rather small provincial region.

[AERS, David, Christianity for Courtly Subjects: Reflections on the Gawain-Poet, pp 91-101, in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

Alliterative poetry persisted longer in the West Midlands of England than elsewhere; and, the Pearl-poetry is written in an alliterative style – that is repetitions of the initial letters of words, especially consonants – with just occasional tail-rhymes at the line endings. Despite this survival of an old style, the royal influence had clearly reached the locality of the Pearl-poetry by its fourteenth-century times, and this can be taken to have brought with it the wherewithal for the Plant surname to thrive in its most populous homeland. Here, the name Plant could have found some resonance with the nearby Welsh meaning 'offspring' of plant as well as with the local biblical interpretations in the Pearl-poetry.

1.5.2 A good-enough moral code

In other romances, the Arthurian knight Sir Gawain is a philanderer, but not here. [Burrow p75] David Aers notes, for the poet's Gawain and his other poems, that a noble courtly existence is described with a re-alignment of traditional church teachings. For both royal and noble court, Aers posits that Christianity is assimilated to the celebration of forms of life that belong to the aspirations of the contemporary local aristocracy and gentry. [Aers p95] The codes of the chivalrous 'honourmen', with their almost Christless Christianity, are good enough for this aspirational world that is characterised by Sir Gawain from king Arthur's fictive royal brotherhood of equals. [Aers p99]

Gawain Pentangle  The endless knot of Gawain's qualities:
his five senses; five fingers; strenghth from
devotion to the five wounds of Christ
and to the five joys of Mary; and, also
Gawain's five social graces. [5 by 5 fold]

Regarding the Pearl-poet's concern for 'clane' sex, especially in his poem Cleanness, Jane Gilbert notes [Gilbert p54] that the poet has God eulogising the joy of 'natural' sex whilst condemning Sodom [Gilbert p57] where sins of extreme sameness (e.g. incest) and extreme difference (e.g. sex with angels or devils) are treated as essentially the same travesty. This pairing is found also in this poet's other poems. However, in the poems Pearl and Gawain, there are added complications whereby the poet makes adjustments to this dual transgression. [Gilbert pp 63-66] For example, in the Gawain poem, the poet sidesteps Gawain's supposed transgression of 'fraternal' love (extreme sameness) and love of the Virgin Mary (extreme difference) focussing on Gawain's dilemma of maintaining both his chastity and courtly courtesy at the same time. [Gilbert pp 63-64] This justification is pieced together in two ways: first, Gawain's love of the Virgin Mary is his last bastion against adultery; and, secondly, he is kissed by the Green Knight's Lady and, by passing on the kisses to her husband, he redirects them to their proper place of her husband's cheek after his having been the object of his temptress's illicit affection. [Gilbert p65] In this way, Gawain keeps his 'cortaysye clane'.

[GILBERT, Jane, Gender and Sexual Transgression, pp 53-69, in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

In particular however, Gawain conceals a love token given to him by the Green Knight's Lady and this secrecy disallows any correction to her adulterous ardour. This echos a frequent feature of those times. The contemporary code of 'chivalric courtly love' places all of the blame for the illicit passion on the female sex [Gilbert pp 67-68] whilst, for his part, Gawain more innocently fears the sin of adultery more than the transgression of excessive sameness or difference.

More generally, the poet's secularisation of religion allows a chivalric code that is 'good-enough' for salvation in heaven. In this code, the poet retains religious actions, such as confession to a priest or indeed to the Green Knight when no priest is available. Such matters in the Gawain poem are addressed further by Nicholas Watson and Priscilla Martin.

[WATSON, Nicholas, The Gawain-Poet as a Vernacular Theologian, pp 293-313, in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814] [MARTIN, Priscilla, Allegory and Symbolism, pp 315-329, in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

Watson notes that, when Gawain returns to the royal court at Camelot, he is still wearing his 'token of untrawthe' as represented by the green belt or girdle which is a symbol of his humiliation. He had accepted it as a magical token from the Green Knight's Lady who had dishonestly promised that it would protect him. Before he was left free to return to Camelot, Gawain had eventually confessed to the Green Knight that he had kept the belt secret and not passed it on, in contravention of his covenant to exchange all winnings. Having 'confessed so clene', [Gawain line 2391] the Green Knight had offered the girdle back to Gawain who accepted it as a 'sygne of my surfet' (of his transgression) [Gawain line 2392]. [Martin p327] Arriving at the secular royal court of Camelot, the green belt is turned into a badge of honour; this resonates with the motto of king Edward III's mid fourteenth-century Order of the Garter which is appended to the Gawain poem, in a different hand in large letters in Anglo-Norman: HONI SOYT Q MAL PENC [Middle French Honi soit qui mal y pense: "Shame on him who thinks evil of it"].

Garter badge

From the viewpoint of medieval Christian academic theology, there was little wrong with the Camelot knights' pragmatic reaction to Gawain's sin of not fulfilling all of his covenant with the Green Knight, notwithstanding that he had failed his earthly covenant by initially keeping the green belt secret. [Watson p293]

Watson extends his comments to all four poems in the Pearl-poetry manuscript – Cleanness, Patience, Pearl, Gawain – and notes that they are part of a broad fourteenth-century movement in which religious ideas of all kinds were becoming quickly accessible to English speaking readers. He notes that this poet, unlike other writers at that time, stresses the primacy of words and deeds over inner thoughts and feelings. [Watson pp 294-296] In the poem Pearl for example [Pearl lines 673-6] the poet allows (unusually) two entrants into heaven – those who see God and special souls ‐ both equally loved by Christ. The poem thereby sidesteps a need for a long spiritual struggle in this life, placing lay people in much the same position as such religious devotees as celibate monks and hermits. [Watson pp 303-304]

1.5.3 Planted virtue

By contrast to other writings, courtly readers could find great comfort in the writings of the Pearl-poet [Aers p101] as long as they confined themselves to 'honourable' sexual acts. This is relevant in connection with medieval mentions elsewhere such as of God's 'planted virtue' or 'planted craft' and, not least here, in connection with God's planted paradise of 'kynde-craft'. In David Aers opinion, the depoliticisation of virtue is one of the most powerful effects of this poet's revision of the religious Christian tradition, this having been made in response to the same cultural forces that are noted in a contemporary, more questioning poem: Langland's Piers Plowman. As already noted, the Pearl-poet allowed hope in heaven for those living an imperfect religious life.

Here amongst such medieval word usage, we have that God 'planted' (sic) 'al the worlde', not just ordaining the land but also the seas [Patience lines 111-114]. We can seek this and further understanding in the biblical interpretations in the Pearl-poetry which presents a striking articulation of God's power, along with the importance of covenants made by man with God. This is in keeping with an old and continuing academic theology though the poet keeps his associated concepts conscientiously simple for the most part, embedding them in tales which remain popular today, especially in the case of the Gawain and Pearl poems. [Watson pp 294-97] In particular, we can keep the Pearl-poet's 'depoliticised virtues' in mind alongside a mainstream of other writings refering to God's planted craft or virtue. As indicated (with illustration) above, the 'virtuous' pentangle on Sir Gawain's shield is appropriate to those who are focused on words and deeds in a world in which most people lacked enough time for prolonged inner contemplation. In this Pearl-poetry, there is also the flexible green girdle which we can take to represent flexibilty in the application of religious perfection to a 'virtuous' knightly intent in a less perfect but pragmatic world.

In seeking sense here in the word usage 'planted virtue' as occurs elsewhere at that time, we can look for relevant virtues in the Dieulacres Plant homeland by looking to all four of the Pearl-poems. For Gawain in the Gawain poem, virtue comprises bravery with tact, good manners and not least chastity. [Brewer pp 16-17] Here, chastity does not include the complete sexual abstinence of celibacy: as Watson puts it, the poem Cleanness recasts the notion of sexual purity to include the 'kynde crafte' [Cleanness line 697] of heterosexual intercourse, not as a grudging second best but as fully its equivalent, 'welnyȝe pure paradys' [Cl 704]. [Watson p309]

The Cleanness poem:
Gawain Manuscript Cleanness
Noah and his children

There is also Gawain's concern for the virtue of 'trawthe', for which modern critics prefer mostly to emphasise more than just a modern meaning of truth and take it to imply a profound integrity. [Brewer pp 16-17]

[BREWER, Derek, Introduction, pp 1-21 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]
For the virtue of courtesy, Brewer identifies differing meanings for this courtly word in the poet's four poems. In Patience, it is applied to God's patience. In Cleanness, it is identified with cleanness, both literal and metaphorical. In Pearl, it is partly the paradoxical loving relationship of hierarchy and equality. In the Gawain poem, it is partly noble manners and speech and it develops into the highest moral and spiritual quality, even more so than honour, rather similarly as in Pearl where it is God's own divine Grace. [Brewer pp 16-17]

For the virtue of charity, there is relatively little in this poetry by comparison with Langland's poem Piers Plowman. The Pearl-poet appears to identify himself relatively little with the poor, apart from preaching the endurance of poverty with patience. [Brewer, p140] In the poem Pearl for example, virtue is more about a spiritual acceptance of wealth and status. [Riddy p152]

[BREWER, Derek, Feasts, pp 129-142 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814] [RIDDY, Felicity, Jewels in Pearl, pp 143-155 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

Thus, in this homeland poetry, God is mentioned for His own patient courtesy or grace for example. Earthly virtues are various. In Gawain's pentangle for example, there is his endless five-fold knot of his qualities which combine into a central sign of 'trawthe'. [Martin p326] At the Green Knight's castle of Hautdesert for example, there is a tension between spiritual 'clannes' and Gawain maintaining his 'corteysye' to his host's Lady. [Martin p326] Also, here and elsewhere, there are references to God's 'planted' Word in this world. So amongst this we have, by virtue of God's patient courtesy or Grace, various notions to consider for a 'plant' of virtuous qualities by God.

In the Pearl-poetry there is in particular a direct reference God's plantted (sic) paradise of pleasure, as clearly alludes to the contemporary biblical version of Genesis 2:8 [Gen 2.8: Deus plantaverat paradisum voluptatis]. Lines 1006-7 of the poem Cleanness refer to a province of earthly paradise plantted by God and lines 697-708 expand upon God's tuition of the paradise of sexual pleasure. This relates back to the ambigious Latin (as well as the developing Wycliffe translation) of Genesis 2:8 which, at that time, did not assume a Garden of Eden but simply stated that God planted paradise of 'liking' [Wycliffe] or pleasure, in which he set man. In terms of the local thirteenth-century translation of an ancient philosophical text called 'De Plantis', from Arabic into more accessible Latin, the ancient Greek beliefs of plants having feelings and intelligence were being denigrated and replaced by the less sentient generative power of the vegetative. However, still by the fourteenth century, such detail was almost certainly lost on the less thoroughly educated, with preference given by the homeland Pearl-poet to a simpler tale of God's planting of the pleasurable kynde-craft (natural people-craft) of sexual relations [Cleanness lines 697-708 and 1006-7]. I shall return to this later below.

1.5.4 The Pearl-poetry's relevance at Dieulacres

The Pearl-poetry has been noted for its suitability for reading to a much less literate audience than the author himself, such as to a small gathering in a local manor house, in the case of the Gawain poem. J A Burrow comments that, more generally, the performance of a text was most often at a social occasion that depended on the social setting and the nature of a text. Sermons and devotional readings were performed from the pulpit and read aloud in the houses of the devout. [Burrow p49] I shall consider here the suitability of the poems for the setting of Dieulacres abbey.

Starting with the Gawain poem, its lines 30-31 set a scene as follows, 'If you will listen to this lay [that is, a romance Tale as distinct from medieval Lives and Histories, Burrow p75] for just a little while, I shall tell it immediately as I heard it in town [as I in toun herde]'. This can be related to Dieulacres abbey in as much as, unusually for a Cistercian house, it had the responsibility for the adjacent market town of Leek.

Also, at this abbey, there were visits from the gentry and from huntsmen, with the abbot sometimes complaining about those with large and inconsiderate entourages. The abbey had a responsibility for maintaining both granges and hunting lands in its adjoining core moorlands. Hence, there was a need here for a tuition of the locals about hunting skills. There are three lengthy descriptions in the Gawain poem of the nature and detailed requirements for three types of hunts.

Also, the abbey's visiting royal patrons included Edward III and his son the Black Prince who each gave donations to the abbey for its parish church. The sermon-like poem Cleanness fits well with this abbey's responsibility to supply preachers to the local church congregation.

Pearl poem: The Dreamer and his dead daughter
Gawain Manuscript Pearl poem   Gawain
Manuscript Pearl poem 2

Burrow notes for the local poet's poem Pearl that it is not fully 'fictive' in that it sets out to demonstrate a controversial point for that time, that baptised infants are innocents amongst the most blessed of blessed souls: it does this by calling upon two biblical texts. One is the parable of the vineyard, to counter the Dreamer's objection that an infant could not possibly have had the opportunity to serve God on earth. The other is Chapter XIV of the book of Revelation, describing St John's vision of the 144 'virgines' who followed the Lamb (Christ) in heaven. Burrow adds that no-one would want to suggest that the Pearl poem is concerned only to establish this doctrinal point; but even the most 'literary' of readers has to recognise that one of the immediate objectives of the poem is theological truth. [Burrow p22]

The remaining poem Patience has been associated with training in Bendictine values and Dieulacres was a Cistercian abbey following the Benedictine code.

It hence needs little imagination to surmise that these circumstances included a special need for readings, not least to the abbey's local lay brethren [Cistercian conversi], that needed to include aristocratic values such as hunting and chivraly alongside instruction in 'consistent appropriate' religious principles.

In this way, this particular circumstance of the abbey can help to explain the popularity of the Plant name around the core lands of Dieulacres, albeit perhaps after the Plante name had arrived earlier with an influence from 'Plantegenest' Norman lords, who had visited or had been based in the region. For example, the notion of fertility in a biblical planted 'paradise', as evidenced in Cleanness, could have helped raise the popularity of the Plant name which implied a plant of God's creative Word on the earthly plain including His planted paradise of the pleasurable kynde-craft of fertility. This is also in keeping with the name God increase it of Dieulacres abbey, as I will expand upon in section 4 below.

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2. Plant homeland circumstances

Geffrey Plante Genest, at a young age, was count of Anjou and then the duke of Normandy by conquest. He is most famous for fathering a long line of English kings. Their influence was immense and widespread. For connecting together the early Plant locations, this influence can be narrowed down more specifically to a Longspée-Audley hypothesis for the most part.

In the main Plant homeland, there is a coming together of not only the Longspée line but also another line of illegitimate descent from Geffrey Plante Genest. Around the turn of the twelfth century, there was also the loyal and powerful earl of Chester – he is often described as the Last of the Great Norman Earls. Both Longspée and the long line of Chester earls had retained strong links to Normandy, [as I describe elsewhere, here]. In 1254, the Chester earldom passed to the heir to the English throne and soon after each new-born heir acquired an additional title, the still survivng title Prince of Wales, starting in 1284.

Towards the south of the main concentration of Plants, there had been Geffrey's illegitimate grandson William Longspée by 1224, as sheriff of Staffordshire and Shropshire. His family's intermarriage with the local Audley lords added strength to the Audley family influence which stretched especially across most of north Staffordshire, [as I discuss more fully elsewhere, here].

Towards the north of the main Plant homeland, there was another link to Plante Genest, through his illegitimate son Hamelyn who had fathered a line of Warren earls of Surrey; their illegitimate descent settled in east Cheshire. In Hamelyn's descent, there was for example John de Warenne, 6th earl of Surrey, who was the head of the commissariat for the 1282 conquest of north Wales; he was amongst those who acquired some substantial land in north east Wales near Chester.

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2.1 Chester to the homeland and beyond

The aforesaid Richard Plant, who was in Flintshire north Wales in 1301, held rights to coal there, not far from Chester. Around this time, the coal mines of Flintshire were experiencing a boom: fuel was needed for the smiths who were making the tools, nails and other ironwork for the extensive building of castles to solidify royal authority over north Wales [Dyer p260]. A Plant such as he could have acquired sufficient means to relocate, instead of being bound to a local lord.

Modern Cheshire having lost its NW and NE portions
Modern county of Cheshire
A=Richard Plant 1301; B=Ranulph Plant 1382

Moderate wealth could have allowed men such as he to seek comparative safety for his family, not least in the lands that were newly being cleared in east Cheshire and NE Staffordshire. Any such relocation could have been to Macclesfield Forest for example where, in places such as Whaley, Port Shrigley and Disley, virtually all tenancies recorded in the early fourteenth century were of holdings 'recently assarted', between 1240 and 1310 [Crosby p44] - (the word assart derives from the Old French word essarter meaning 'to grub up trees').

[CROSBY, Alan. A History of Cheshire (Phillimore, 1996)]

As well as in east Cheshire, land was becoming available as part of a major Cistercian development in the adjoining moorlands of NE Staffordshire. It seems that this could have been conducive to the ramification of a scatter of Plants, each with enough land to survive (medieval villages were not the main form of settlement here, rather hamlets and more isolated areas of newly cleared assarts). [Dyer, Map 2]

Southern part of Macclesfield Hundred with Macclesfield borough [M] in south-east Cheshire.
R = Rainow: Ranulph Plant 1382; V = Midgley Vaccary: Thomas Plant 1362-82
H = Main Plant Homeland, around Leek parish

In particular, a major route (albeit now abandoned and mostly disappeared) passed from the port of Chester on the river Dee into north Staffordshire passing the newly granted (around 1214) borough of Leek. It evidently linked onwards into Derbyshire near Ashbourne and through Derby with a branch linking still further on to Leicester. It seems this was an important route for early Plants. As well as surviving documentation for a Plant near Chester in 1301 and also near and northwards of Leek by the 1360s, the route also evidently suited a drover called Edmund Plant from Hurdsfield (between Macclesfield and Rainow in the above map). In 1453, he owed debts to Thomas Palmer of SE Leicestershire. Along this route, the records also reveal a Thomas Plant who was an inhabitant of Leicester in 1505; also, by 1523, the Plants were established at Ashbourne on the route near the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border.

The medieval route called the Earlsway passing by Leek in the Staffordshire moorlands
Route of the medieval Earlsway
After D M Palliser, The Staffordshire Landscape [Hodder and Stoughton, 1976], pp 79-80, 81.

The name of this major medieval route was the Earlsway (first recorded around 1200) consistent with its linking together some of the considerable lands of the Chester earls, which were mostly throughout the north Midlands. For example, the earls' castle and borough of Chester are marked on the map above along with their new borough of Leek granted around 1214. At much the same time, the last independent Chester earl refounded Poulton abbey which had hitherto been near Chester renaming it Dieulacres abbey relocated adjacent to his new borough of Leek; this abbey's core lands, some reaching north to Macclesfield, became central to the Plants' most populous homeland.

Comparative hardship struck during the early to mid fourteenth century. Lords ruling the Welsh marches exploited their peasants ruthlessly [Dyer p255] allowing themselves to remain prosperous. Conflict and rebellion in north Wales could have played their part in encouraging a displacement of the populace. For example, in 1294, the English authorities at Flint were fearful of an attack by Welsh rebels and they themselves burned down the town which had been built next to the castle, to prevent its use as a shelter for a besieging rebel army [Dyer pp 256-7].

The sparse pastoral region of the main Plant homeland has incomplete records, albeit that the Macclesfield Court Rolls provide some unusually complete ones from around the 1360s. Records are especially missing for the large Plant homeland parish of Leek in NE Staffordshire. Even in later centuries, Plant records here are mostly just bare scraps that do not piece together into coherent genealogies and, added to this, we have the confusions from many Plants having the same first name.

One way or another, by the mid fourteenth century, there were several Plants in their main homeland, perhaps having not least taken advantage of newly vacated land following the privations of the early and mid fourteenth century. More generally, especially around the 1380s and 1390s, an increasing number of peasants left their lords' manors and acquired land on manors where their likely servile origins were unknown or quickly forgotten [Dyer p278].

As mentioned, there was a Ranulph Plant in 1382-4 at Rainow in east Cheshire and, just a little further north, there was an illegitimate descent at Poynton from the 7th earl of Surrey. This last Surrey earl (d 1347) had failed to get recognition for his sons as legitimate, even after appealing directly to the pope. Though powerful, he had been opposed in SE England in particular by the king's cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster.

It is not impossible that there might have been links somehow of the main homeland Plants to other early Plants elsewhere. For example, in 1352, there is evidence indicating that a James Plant was involved in a dispute, following the disinheritance of the last of de Warenne earls from their traditional Norfolk lands [Patent Rolls]. The last earl's illegitimate son married the heiress of Sir Nicholas de Eton of Poynton and Stockport and settled at Poynton in east Cheshire.

Besides this Warren link, it is worth repeating that there was another important link that should not be ignored. Dieulacres abbey in the Plant homeland had retained considerable land from its earlier foundation at Poulton near Chester. It had been refounded near the NE Staffordshire-Cheshire border in 1214 'to escape attacks from the Welsh' who, at that time, had not been subdued enough, despite king John's limited success in north Wales of 1211.

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2.2 Plants at the Staffordshire-Cheshire border

To the east from Chester, around the subsequent main Plant homeland, the general geographical area had been ideally suited to an exploitation of the forest. At the Domesday Survey (1086), it had been one of the largest woodland areas in England. It is difficult to establish the precise boundaries of the medieval forest of Macclesfield but it is first mentioned in the later twelfth century in the grant of a tenement called 'One House' at Rainow for the office of forest-master. At this time, the bounds of the forest extended to include Leek in Staffordshire but this area (especially Leekfrith) was later granted to Dieulacres abbey (1214) by the then earl of Chester, who held land on both sides of the Cheshire-Staffordshire border. [Tonkinson p2]

[TONKINSON, A M. Macclesfield in the later fourteenth century: Communities of Town and Forest (Manchester Chetham Society, 1999)]

As I have mentioned, the earldom of Chester was held by the heir to the throne by 1254. Before the times of adequate documentation, early Plants might have crossed the county boundary either or both ways, into Cheshire from Audley and Dieulacres lands around Leekfrith in NE Staffordshire, or from the Pennine foothills of SE Cheshire into the Cistercian moorlands of Dieulacres whose (re)foundation was relatively late for a medieval abbey. Either way, there were Plants on both sides of the boundary at least by the later fourteenth century, by when the Plant records indicate some friction between the two different county administrations.

The case of the outlaw Thomas Plont (ca.1362-82) suggests that he was accepted by Dieulacres Abbey in the NE Staffordshire moorlands, to the south of the river Dane, far more favourably than across the county border into Cheshire to the north. This Plant was evidently from Leek parish immediately to the south of the border though we have found the earliest records for him first in the Macclesfield Court Rolls to the north. His infringement is recorded across the county border at [V] in the map below into the jurisdiction of Macclesfield Forest to appear in the Macclesfield Court Rolls of east Cheshire.

River Dane county boundary: D = Dane Wood; V = Midgley Vaccary
Pennine Foothills in SE CHeshire

To enlarge on the circumstance, there had been four vaccaries worth more than £6 in Cheshire, between 1237-41, [Pipe Rolls] including one located at Midgley. There were also three forges in the 1330s which were located in both Midgley [V] and Dane Wood [D]. In 1355, the Midgley vaccary was leased to parker Alexander Attecrosse though he was unsuccessful in attracting extra funds following the Black Prince's expensive Poitiers campaign of 1356. However, the herd of oxen and cows at Midgley was then built up to its maximum of 707 head in 1363. This was then followed by a decline to a little over half that number in 1373, not least due to harsh winters, when the Midgley enterprise was closed. [Tonkinson, pp 12-13, 15-17, 21; also Appendix C here]

Thomas Plont was indicted at the Macclesfield Court in 1363/64 and judged as an outlaw in 1365/66, pending £1 as surety for his release [though it is not clear whether he was captured]. This was when the Midgley vaccary was at its greatest extent. In 1373/74 it was stated that presumably the same Thomas Plont had pastured a bullock within the forest area at the boundary of the Midgley vaccary and then taken it across the River Dane county boundary into Staffordshire where the authority of the Justiciar's Eyre would not run. He was indicted at the Eyre in Macclesfield in 1375/76. As far as it can be told, this appears to have been the same Thomas Plont who received the king's pardon in a beheading case in which he was involved alongside the abbot of Dieulacres in 1382. It might be that all of these surviving records relate to an initial infringement in 1363/64.

Another apparent cross-border incident occurred in 1397. John and Richard Plont were accused with six others of trespassing with cattle at Quarnford, apparently again across the county boundary into Cheshire at nearby Midgley Gate. The accusation was brought by Peter de Legh, who was the king's favourite and part of Richard II's so-called 'Cheshire Guard' in times leading up to the fall of the king to a new Lancastrian regime.

Earlier, Richard II had spent a fortnight in Cheshire in July 1387 and there was a continuing large number of Cheshire men in royal service into the 1390s. [Bennett p83] Unlike king Richard's grandfather and predecessor, Edward III, the pious Richard's own knights were more of Venus than Bellona, that is more of the bedchamber than the battlefield. [Bennett p85]

[BENNETT, Michael J, The Historical Background, pp 71-90 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

By the summer of 1397 however, the year of the Plant trespasses at Midgley Gate, king Richard II ordered the arrest of three dissident nobles and immediately set about raising a large force in Cheshire to support this royalist coup. The three nobles were condemned as traitors and the palitinate of Chester was raised in dignity to a principality; king Richard granting annuities to over seventy local knights and gentlemen, retaining several hundred Cheshire archers and he also had at call a force of some two thousand men. The Kenilworth chronicler testified that the Cheshire dialect was heard in court, not least in the voice of the king's favourite the aforesaid Peter Legh of Lyme. [Bennett p86] The king then set up a base at Holt castle, 10 miles due south of Chester. There were Dieulacres properties stretching between the two.

Dieulacres lands stretching 8 miles south from Chester

Dieulacres lands near Chester

After a visit to Cheshire early in 1398, the king returned twice in the summer. He was based at Holt Castle which he developed as his main treasure house whilst he also travelled west as far as Flint and east to Macclesfield [north of Leek in map below] where he was entertained by Peter de Legh and his clerk John Macclesfield. This favouritism of Peter was to become a curse however when, shortly after, Legh was the only one executed at Chester upon the capture of Richard II there, in 1399. The forces led by Henry Bolingbrook thereby triumphed with seemingly little loss of blood and Bolingbrook became the first Lancastrian king Henry IV, usurping the line through the Black Prince who had been Edward III's eldest son and the father of Richard II. [Bennett p87]

Dieulacres lands in Cheshire and Staffordshire circa 1334 (omitting Lancashire) with core lands around Leek in right panel

Dieulacres lands in Cheshire and Staffordshire Dieulacres core lands around Leek
After, Wagstaff, J M, The economy of Dieulacres Abbey 1214-1539, North Staffordshire Journal of Field Studies, 1970, vol 10, pp83-101, Fig 2
(copyright Keele University)

The Cistercians or White Monks were noted for their pioneering land management of high grounds. All three of their Staffordshire houses were planted in the north eastern moorlands of the county: Croxden (1179); Dieulacres (1214); and, Hulton (1219). [Palliser p72] More generally, the tide of clearance and settlement progressed well in the thirteenth century but fate turned in the first half of the fourteenth century with a succession of calamities. The 'Great European Famine' of 1315-17 certainly ravaged Staffordshire – the Croxden chronicle described 1316 as, 'a year memorable for dearness [soaring prices], famine, disease and death'. [Palliser p80] Across the county border to the north, in Macclesfield forest, there was still in the first half of the fourteenth century extensive clearing of woodland; this was around the perimeter of the forest and was for arable cultivation, albeit that assarting was not at the same high rate as during the less harsh conditions of the late twelfth century and throughout the thirteenth century. [Tonkinson p57]

In 1349, Staffordshire was invaded by the 'Great Pestilence' (Black Death) and there was certainly heavy mortality in the county in 1349 and again in 1361. [Palliser p80] For the manor of Macclesfield, a high death rate is indicated by an increase from six to forty-six vacant holdings between the two years of 1348 and 1349. In 1354, an order of the Black Prince administration allowed decayed holdings, described as 'ruinous', to be placed with tenants without the payment of reliefs or arrears of rent. Tenant holdings in the manor's forest during the first four years of the plague suggest a death rate of at least 30 per cent with, for example, an even higher rate of tenant transfers at Rainow, which was 62 per cent. This does not mean that the land was left unused and, in February 1355, forty-one people were amerced for pasturing. [Tonkinson p76-77] Comparing rental in 1352 with that in 1383/4, the land at the latter date was divided into a smaller number of holdings, held by fewer people, except in the township of Rainow. [Tonkinson p79]

Overall, the Macclesfield court rolls suggest an initial recovery of the population from the devastation of plague during the mid-1350s to mid-1360s. These were the times for which surviving records have been found for what are so far the earliest known local Plants. This was then followed by a picture of a prolonged decline in the population due to a re-emegence of plague, apart from a respite in the late 1380s, with a further decline in the early 1390s back to below the levels of the early 1350s. [Tonkinson p80] This does not necessary represent however the full story for the first Plants in the local region, especially as their main homeland appears to have been over the county border to the south, in the Dieulacres lands of Leek parish, where the records are far less complete and perhaps misleadingly missing of records for earlier Plants.

Amongst fuller records by the sixteenth century, there are many Plant wills most notably for north Staffordshire with a majority of the Plants described as 'yeoman' (ie land-holding farmers) in the moorlands around the large parish of Leek. Their access to land was likely advantageous for the male-line family growth recently discovered with y-DNA for the unusually large male-line Plant family. As already indicated, it seems that this largest genetic Plant family also travelled and found further support throughout western Staffordshire, as well as in east Cheshire from early times before having spread further by around 1700, especially to NE Derbyshire and SE Leicestershire for example.

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3. Influences from the continent

A paternal family for the Plants, or more likely a culture that favoured the adoption of the Plant name, could have arrived in their main homeland from the continent, such as with the withdrawal of the Norman aristocracy from Normandy in 1204.

The name de la Planta, also written de Plant', appears in Anjou in 1202, which is the region of France where the royal Plantagenet family originated. Count Geffrey of Anjou had taken Normandy in 1144 to become its duke. The first recorded mention of his name as 'Plantegenest' appears posthumously around 1173-75 in Anjou, and also as 'Plante Genest' in western Normandy at some date between 1174 and 1183. The first recorded evidence for the Plante name also appears in western Normandy in 1180.

Along with the nobility, there were other likely strands of influence arriving from the continent. This included ancient coastal migrations and a spread of culture in writings both secular and religious.

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3.1 Coastal migration and genetic evidence

Modern scholarship, archaeology and genetic evidence in particular is indicating that it should not be ignored that there had long been migrations that bordered the Atlantic coast of Europe. These involved for example Gascony in Aquitaine, at the southern end of the Bay of Biscay. This Bay extends south to north through most of the latitudes of modern day France.

For the largest single-ancestor Plant family, the genetic y-DNA evidence indicates that its male-line origins were around the region of Gascony in SW France, before appearing with the Plant name in the late medieval documentation around east Cheshire and north Staffordshire. This ancient genetic connection however could have occurred as long as two or three millennia ago. As deep-ancestry genetic testing advances, some more detail might emerge about how this male-line ancestry of the main Plant family might have progressed gradually or more suddenly on its route from Gascony to Staffordshire.

More generally, coastal migration from Gascony up the Atlantic coast continued into the English Channel, with Normandy on its south shore and England on its north. As well as this route around Brittany and through the Channel and then into the North Sea, such migration also extended via Cornwall up the west coast of Britain, around Wales and to Ireland. Some commonality is found in the similarities of the Celtic languages of Brittany (NW France), Cornwall (SW England) and Wales and, to a lesser extent, Ireland and west Scotland.

In the twelfth century, English merchants plied their trade with links down Europe's Atlantic coast beyond the Bay of Biscay as far as Spain, taking wool and returning with spices, gold and fine leather [Dyer p207]. By 1262, the name William Plaunte was in Essex [Forest Pleas] by the Thames estuary in SE England and, also around that time, across the Channel in eastern Normandy at Rouen. There were three merchants at Rouen in 1273 called Plaunt and 'de la Plaunt' [Patent Rolls]. Though William Plaunte in Essex might not have been directly related to his Geffrey Plaunt namesake at Rouen, the three aforesaid Rouen merchants appear in English documents and were evidently trading wool across the Channel.

By 1275, the Gascon wine trade had reached Chester, near north Wales, from where for example metal from the nearby lead mines was exported: Chester was the main port of NW England at that time [Crosby p56]. The Duchy of Aquitaine (including Gascony) had been allied to England since the times of Angevin Empire (1154-1204) and their wine exports to England reached their peak of 20,000 tuns (5 million gallons) in 1308 [Dyer p208].

In 1356, the Black Prince [earl of Chester and prince of Wales] led his Poitiers campaign against the French in Aquitaine with an army of English, Welsh, Breton and Gascon troops. Though it is uncertain from how early, the Plante surname is found in modern times in Aquitaine, especially around Gascony.

In the mid fourteenth century, cloth exports began to supplement those of raw wool. Around 1364-8, the king's minister, Roger Plente of Exeter, with his ship 'le Ceorge' was granted leave to take cloth to Gascony, Spain, and other parts beyond seas and return with wine, etc, to the ports of London, Southampton, Sandwich, and Exeter [Patent Rolls, Fine Rolls]. This name might perhaps relate to Pelynt in Cornwall or it might involve Plant though only insofar as 'plente' meant fertility or abundance and this can then be related to the planting 'plante' life. There is some confusion of the two spellings 'plante' and 'plente' in the evidence listed in the Middle English Dictionary, with in particular the word 'plente' developing to become 'plenty'.

In accordance with such general migratory trends, we might regard it as no mere coincidence that the main evidence for the name Plante in mainland Europe is near its Atlantic coastal and river routes, especially in the following locations: Gascony [G]; up the Loire valley [L] to Anjou; and, in Normandy [N and E]. Similarly, the name Plant is found early around places of onward coastal migration from these continental locations to around England's coasts, specifically: the Thames estuary [T]; the Wash [W] and Lincolnshire; also, in the west, up the Bristol Channel [B] to north Somerset and south Gloucestershire; and towards the Plants' most populous homeland [H].

Plant coastal migration:
H = Main homeland; W = The Wash
B = Bristol channel; T = Thames estuary

Migration map
N = Western Normandy; E = Eastern Normandy
L = Loire Valley; G = Gascony

It might be noted that the last of these [H] is around 35 miles inland but this is not without some reason. As I have outlined, the Plant name could have found its feet first in the then-busy Dee estuary, which served Chester as well as abbey lands stretching 8 miles to its south. The inland trek could then have been along the medieval Earlsway. This was for example a route of Dieulacres Abbey, relocated to escape raids from the Welsh whilst retaining Chester lands. The Plants, or the Plant name, could have travelled much the same route to settle in their main homeland around the abbey's new location amongst moorlands of Cistercian spiritual and agrarian activity as well as visiting huntsmen.

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3.2 Coining of the Plantegenest name and cultural context

For the main Plant homeland [H], as I have already mentioned, there were three lines of descent from Geffrey Plante Genest. Their arrival in the homeland is indicated by: Longspée (1224); the royal heir (1254); Warren lands (1282) with Sir Edward de Warren (d 1369) subsequently marrying into a gentry family of east Cheshire.

The name Plante Genest for count Geffrey of Anjou appears in a poem by the Jersey chronicler Wace [Roman d Rou, vol ii, ll 10300-02, 10305]. Wace travelled from Jersey to nearby Caen in western Normandy. We know little about him apart from what is said in his writings. These indicate that this historical poem was commissioned by Geffrey Plantegenest's son, Henry II, and it can be dated to between 1174 and 1183.

Plantegenest's Angevin seat
at Angers, capital of Anjou.

Angers castle

More is known about the first known appearance of the name 'Plantegenest' in Greater Anjou. It appears in a history written around 1173-74. This was at Tours [T] in the enlarged Anjou that had become Greater Anjou. Its author was Jean de Marmoutier [John of Marmoutier] who was a monk of the monastery there. Tours [T] is around 60 miles east of the Angevin capital Angers [A]; both are on the river Loire.

[FARMER, Sharon, History, Legitimacy, and Motivation in Marmoutier's Literature for the Angevins. Communities of Saint Martin: Legend and Ritual in Medieval Tours, by Sharon Farmer, Cornell University Press, Ithaca; London, 1991, pp 78-95. JSTOR, Accessed 5 June 2020.] [Also, Preservation through Time: Historical Consciousness at Marmoutier. ibid 1991, pp 151-186. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2020.]

Loire valley:
A = Angers, capital of Anjou; C = Chinon, Eimeric de la Planta 1202
T = Marmoutier abbey; O = Orleans, Roman de la Rose

Loire valley

Between 1137 and 1175, the monks of Marmoutier wrote three works that served not least to enhance the status and legitimacy of the counts of Anjou. [Farmer p78] The first involved the cult of St Martin and glorified the first count, Ingelgar, who accompanied the return of the saint's relics from Auxere to Tours. This was written by an anonymous monk between about 1137 and 1156. [Farmer pp 79-88] Then, at some date between 1164 to 1173, Jean de Marmoutier revised and expanded the second work, 'Deeds of the Counts of Anjou', and wrote a third, a laudatory biography of 'Geffrey the Fair'. [Farmer pp 78-95] This was dedicated to Geffrey's son, king Henry II, and it includes mention of the name 'Plantegenest' for Geffrey.

[JOHNSSON, Peter H, Locks of Difference: The Integral Role of Hair as a Distinguishing Feature in Early Merovingian Gaul, Ex Post Facto (San Francisco State University, Spring 2010) pp 55-68; accessed 21 June 2020]

Around the same time, a royal genealogy appeared for St Martin of Tours (ca.316-97) as a grandson of king Florus. This was typical of the twelfth century when more secular themes were introduced into histories rather than explaining most events as being due to God's intervention. This twelfth-century reinvention of the abbey's history, called the 'Legend of the Seven Sleepers of Marmoutier', even though it was really anonymous, was attributed to Gregory of Tours (ca.538-94). [Farmer p168] In his earlier times, Gregory had written a history of the then ruling Merovingian kings. He described them as 'reges crinitis' meaning 'long-haired kings' and their attachment to their hair is illustrated, for example, by the following passage: [Johnnson pp 55-57]

[Princes] Childerbert and Lothar sent Arcadius to the queen ... with a pair of scissors in one hand and a naked sword in the other ... he held them out to her. 'Your sons ... seek your decision ... Do you wish them to live with hair cut short? Or would you prefer to see them killed?' ... distraught ... she answered: 'If they are not to ascend the throne, I would rather see them dead than with their hair cut short'

Later, Charlemagne (ca.747-814) of the next ruling dynasty invited Alcuin of York to his court. Then, in 796, he appointed Alcuin bishop of Tours and placed Marmoutier abbey in his care. Alcuin wrote the 'Life of Saint Martin of Tours' and, at that time, he had just briefly mentioned Martin's origins as 'the highest shoot of gentile blood' [Farmer p169]. It seems that this vegetal reference was only later developed to elaborate St Martin's supposed descent from king Florus.

Plantegenest name timeline

Both 'hairiness' and 'highest shoot' hence featured in the times of the reinvention of Marmoutier's history which involved not least the cult of St Martin and the twelfth-century history of Geffrey the Fair. Following Gregory and Alcuin, the combination of both 'hairiness' and 'shoot' were evidently combined in the name of Bernard Platapilosa who had exerted his authority first (869-72) on l'Auvergne and le Velay in central France. His name, Plantapilosa, means 'hairy shoot'. It hence seems, at least to me, that it was no mere coincidence that both 'hairy' and 'highest shoot' had featured prominently in the history of Marmoutier before it was being rivised alongside John of Marmoutier's attribution of the name Plantegenest [a hairy shoot] to count Geffrey of Anjou.

The Plantegenest name means 'shoot of broom' which, as a young sprig, is hairy. As I have already noted, this name occurs also in western Normandy in the late twelfth century, where Wace used the similar name 'Plante Genest' for count Geffrey of Anjou and, to this can be added that, at about the same date 1180, the name William Plantapeluda (also meaning hairy shoot) appears as a wittness at Montebourg Abbey in Coutances in western Normandy. For our particular interest in the name Plant, we can note that this is at the same place and time as for Durand Plante, at the same place Coutances.

It hence seems to me reasonable that we can suppose that the significance of 'hairy' and 'shoot' in the history of Marmoutier was known to John of Marmoutier when he applied the Plantegenest name to count Geffrey the Fair. However, it would also seem that the reasoning for this chosen name could likely have been less well known more widely elsewhere. The name Plantagenet (and likewise any possible influence of it on the Plant surname), though written into Norman records in around 1174-83, could hence have been open to some different interpretations elsewhere, where the history of Marmoutier was less studied and revered.

Subsequently for the royal name, leaving aside the name Galfrido Plauntegenet in 1266 of a geneat charged with transporting a garderobe, the first surviving record for the use of Plantagenet as a noble surname was not until 1460. On 16 October 1460, George Neville, acting as Lord Chancellor of England presented to parliament the claim that Richard duke of York was the rightful king of England. The Lancastrian kings were descended from the third son of king Edward III and they had usurped the royal line that had passed through Edward's first son. The Yorkist title of Richard had descended from Edward's fourth son but York's claim was made through the virtue of his mother, who was descended from the second son. The first Angevin king, Henry II had gained the English throne by the right of his mother, albeit aided by his father count Geffrey Plantegenest of Anjou. The 1460 claim to the throne was made in the name of 'Richard Plantagenet, commonly called duke of York' with Plantagenet harking back through senior sons during 300 years of royal rule. [Lewis, p302]

[LEWIS, Matthew, 'Richard Duke of York, King By Right' (Amberley, 2017)]

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3.3 Name development

As outlined above, there was a large gap in written records for the Plantagenet name. This was less the case in its own small way for the Plant name which is first known to have been in England in 1262. One possilbility for the Plantegenest name is that it was kept alive by a 'plantageneat' authority. This term, similar to Plantagenet, could imply the meaning of 'a philander horseman' since planta (especially in Welsh) meant 'to procreate' and a geneat was a high status peasant (horseman) with duties to his lord. This less than royal meaning might have been muttered, for example, by a local peasantry disenchated with the regime, especially in the case of the subjugated Welsh. This corrupted sense of Plantegenest would then help to explain the gap in written evidence for Plantagenet. The explanation is hence that Plantegenest, not least with a putative spelling planta-geneat, was avoided by the literate in the church and at least some of the secular aristocracy, perhaps avoided in particular by those who remained loyal to the royal regime. [JSP (2007) The tardy adoption of the Plantagenet surname, Nomina, Vol 30, pp 58-84 here]

Following the initial appearance of the name Plantegenest, or Plante Genest in the twelfth century, the next recorded instance as indicated above of the name is with the spelling Plauntegenet which appears just once, apparently disrespectfully in connection with a gardrobe (toilet). This was during the mid thirteenth century Barons War. Then, much later still, in the later half of the fifteenth century, the similar name Plantagenet became attached as a surname to the Angevin count's royal dynastic descendants during the dispute of the so-called Wars of the Roses by when much of any stigma could have waned anyway.

Thus, to expand on this reasoning, the isolated exception to the paucity of early evidence for the Plantagenet name is that Galfrido [meaning Geffrey] Plauntegenet had the duty in 1266 of transporting a gardrobe [a lavatory, perhaps for an itinerant court]. This is recorded at Oxford during the second Barons' War. This is consistent with the normal duties of a geneat (horseman), as well as with a recorded belief that a function of the contemporary vegetable soul was to control of the digestive system. In the feudal system, tribute needed to be paid to a lord and, in the case of a geneat, this is known to have included such duties as: riding, carrying messages, escorting the lord, helping with the hunt, and general carriage work. [Dyer p39].

A nineteenth-century claim [Notes and Queries, Oxford University Press] was that the Plants were illegitimate descendants of the royal Plantagenets [detailed here and Appendix A.1 here]. That bold claim lacks adequate evidence however and, moreover, it is contrary to the available y-dna evidence. More realistically, it seems that we can just ponder whether there was an allegiance of Plants to some murky 'plantageneat' authority in England. The initial 'Marmoutier' association, evident for the Plantegenest name as a 'hairy shoot', could soon have been lost and perhaps even discouraged on account of its defamatory associations. Even if a 'Marmoutier' connection was made between the Plant and Plantapeluda names around the abbey of Coutances in Normandy in 1180, this is not evident in the 'de la Planta' name form in Anjou in 1202 ['de la Planta' might conceivably be tortured to mean 'from the hairy shoot' but 'from a place called la Planta' would be a much more standard meaning]. Most definitely, either way, we cannot expect any grandiose implications for the Plant name in England. Indeed, there is some evidence of disrespect in England for such a name, especially after the loss by king John of his Normandy lands in 1204.

In the main Plant homeland, as I have already mentioned, the Chester earldom passed to the royal heir in 1254. This began with Henry III's son Lord Edward (subsequently Edward I). This prince escaped from captivity and led the royal forces that killed the rebel Simon de Montfort at Evesham in August 1265. Then in 1266 we have the (seemingly defiant) name Galfrido [Geffrey] Plauntegenet linked to a gardrobe, before the last rebel forces surrendered in 1267.

It was evidently much later before the royal name Plantagenet was seemingly rescued from inuendo, as a more settled understanding of a newer Christian scholasticism gained ground. It was into the times of the later fifteenth-century before the surviving documentation shows Plantagenet used as a noble surname. Leading into Tudor times, starting 1485, several claimants to the old dynasty had been killed in battle, or were executed by the Tudors as the old regime was supplanted. Thereafter, the old Plantagenet lineage was used by Henry VIII, to lend legitimacy to the two-fold rose of descent; this was a symbol of the unification of red and white roses, simplifying the nature of the fifteenth-century warring Plantagenet branches: Lancastrians and Yorkists. From then on, it suited Henry VII and his second son Henry VIII to add to their survivng lineage over three centuries of Plantagenet kings to complement their right to rule.

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3.4 Plantefolie and Le Feuillie

Returning to the thirteenth century, there appears to have been some irony of respect and disrespect in connection with the bye-name Plantefolie. This formative surname has not survived. However, the evidence for this name is quite widespread in England [Leicester 1209, Somerset 1226, Weston' 1263, Nottingham 1267, Yorkshire 1270] and it can be taken to have had a philandering implication in as much as it meant a 'planter of foolishness or wickedness'. The similar bye-names Plantebene and Planterose have been repeatedly cited in surname literature though they were distant from the main Plant homeland and much rarer and less widespread than the Plantefolie name.

We can qualify the thirteenth-century name Plantefolie and add some likely initial sense beyond the meaning 'wickedness' of the word 'folie'. Though wickedness or foolishness is the meaning given in medieval English and French language dictionaries, the English occurences of folie in Plantefolie might be an English respelling of 'feuillie'. The respelled word 'feuillie' would then mean an arbour or a shaded area provided by the planting greenery and trees. Moreover, we can tie the meanings of the two spellings together if we loosen our imagination and conjure up such a place as one of 'shadiness' rather than just shade.

    Folie in feuillie
folie in feuillie

We can develop this further in connection with the name Plant. There appear to be three places in Normandy where the Plant name orginated. The reasoning for the first is relatively strong. The name 'de Planteiz' occurs in 1198 near the village of 'le Plantis' in southern Normandy and this is followed by the name 'de Plantes' at Huntingdon in England in 1282. Hence there is evidence enough that this means someone from the village of 'le Plantis'.

For the other two early occurrences in Normandy, they were both near a village called La Feuillie: one is 20 miles east of the Plant name at Rouen and the other is 10 miles north of the occurrence at Coutances. To recapitulate, one occurrence is for three Rouen merchants in 1273, called 'de le Plaunt' or just 'Plaunt', in eastern Normandy. The other is the name 'Plante' in 1180 at Coutances, in western Normandy. Though widely separated, both these evident origins for the Plant name could have meant someone from a planted place, and likely from the place called La Feuillie.

These places can be associated with the 'gardens of delight' which seem to have been customary noble haunts for the fashionable followers of Henry II. As a meaning more in line with the more modest circumstances of the vast majority, it seems to be possible that the Normandy Plants might simply have planted arbours there. Those called Plantefolie can be associated with widespread arbours somewhere though this was perhaps not so accepted amongst the peasantry of England.

We might accordingly suppose that Plantefolie had initially meant 'from a planted place of shade'. Given a verb-noun interpretation in thirteenth-century England however, it seems that this was open, at least in common gossip, to a meaning that shadiness was an opportunity for planting folie [wickedness]. Given the persistence of the spelling folie, it seems that an implanter of wickedness commonly held the imagination of those recording the name Plantefolie in England.

In connection with the word 'folly', we can perhaps glimpse a changing sense shortly after the thirteenth-century times of the name Plantefolie. It seems that the meaning of 'folie' might have initially been more allied to wickedness and carnal sin than is now the case for the modern word 'folly'. Some change to the more modern meaning can be ascribed to the eclipse of medieval scholasticism in northern Europe. This came after the Renaissance and is exemplified by the main character Folly (female) in the book Praise of Folly. This was written by Erasmus (1466-1536) who is known to have turned away from monasticism towards religious humanism having scorned his early training in theology.

Folly was central to Erasmus's sentiment as represented by: 'But for Folly the human race would die out, for who can marry without folly?' [wickedness or carnal foolishness?] Erasmus even has Christ interrupting: 'Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees ... I left you but one precept, of loving another, which I do not hear any one plead that he has faithfully discharged'.

As against the intellectual strictures of the medieval scholasticism, which had been concurrent with the emergence of the Plantagenet name, Erasmus presaged the later liberalisms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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3.5 Roman de la Rose

As noted above, the name Plantebene could be both literal and symbolic. Plantefolie could mean from a planted Garden of Delights or a planter of foliage or folly. Similarly, Planterose could be literal, or the rose could could be symbolic, of the Virgin Mary's spirit or of female sexuality.

During the times of the Angevin Empire (1154-1204) there was, to the north, the kingship of both England and Normandy and, to the south, Aquitaine which reached as far as the Pyrenees. From Aquitaine had come a troubadour tradition called 'courtly love'. The church however distinguished sharply between carnal love and the spiritual love of God. There were disputes. Famously, there was the conflict (1163-70) between king Henry II and his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. Following the withdrawal of the king from the continent, there was Pope Innocent III's excommunication (1209) of king John. From the father, Geffrey, of Henry II to his youngest son John, they were reknown for their copious philandering. They were associated with transmigration from human to creature and they were called the Devd il's brood.

Pythagoras, who had flourished around 532BC, believed that souls could transmigrate between various living bodies. The transmigration of souls was a topic that was again been taken up, albeit with scepticism, in the thirteenth-century poem Roman de la Rose. Gerald of Wales (ca.1146-1223), who frequented the court of the early 'Plantagenet' kings, evidently believed in transmigration and shape-shifting, whereby an earlier 'Plantagenet' ancestor Melusine was said to have flown screaming out of a window as a bat upon being confronted at Mass with the transubstantiated body of Christ.

Concepts of transmigration and transubstantiation were not without some controversy. For example, the Englishman William of Occam (ca.1295-1349) was summoned to Avignon by the Pope to answer charges of heresy as to transubstantiation. Also, the Averroists, unlike St Thomas Aquinas, held that the soul was not immortal, a dispute stemming from an ambiguity in Aristotle who had held that the soul, or at least part of it, could not be separated from the body: this ruled out transmigration.

In 1230, further up the river Loire from Tours and the monks of Maroutier, roughly 70 miles or more north-east at Orelans, the poem Roman de la Rose began its 300 years of major influence. There are many surviving manuscript copies of it. Its influence spread, not least through England's court. It contained satire and some lampooning of both nobles and the Church.

The name Planterose is found in England in Bedfordshire in 1310 and earlier in 1230 in Worcestershire (Warr' Wigorn') [Warwick is 30 miles from Wigornia, the Anglo-Norman name for Worcester]. Though dating back to just before the Rose poem's first appearnace, the name Planterose was roughly of the same time time.

In the Roman de la Rose, the dreamer seeks his rose with its ambiguous meaning. However, the illustrations in some survivng copies betray a preferred interpretation. Generally, the interpretation was that of a young man [the narrator dreaming of his youth] seeking his female companion though some interpretations stayed more strictly with the spiritual than others.

The initial lines of the poem, the Roman de la Rose, were written by William de Lorris around 1230.

lock on heart
Angel with key to his heart
... shame ...
nun looks shocked
finds his rose
Dreamer finds his rose

Jean de Meun's long continuation of the poem, ca.1275, was written more for a secular audience, it seems. There are some philosophical digressions, not least about Nature's generation. [see also JSP, Chapter 21 in Journal 21 here]

For example, Jean de Meun's continuation, around 1275-80, asserted for the fern plant:

'Do we not see how those who are masters of glassblowing create from fern ... both ash and glass? And neither is the glass fern, nor does the fern remain glass'

This passage occurs in a longer discourse in which we learn that Nature, in her continuing struggle with Death, constantly recreates the species from any remaining model, just as the ideal form of the phoenix is constantly reborn from its own ashes.

We can note from this quote that one product from fern was ash, which was associated with rebirth, and the other was glass, which could multiply (generate) images of whatever adorned the garden. This is set in the context of God's chambermaid, Nature, continuing always to hammer and forge to renew the species by new generation.

There is no direct evidence that the poet knew about the fern test for pregnancy, despite the accompanying reference to the multiplication of images in glass. The fern test relies on the formation of a fern pattern from mucous on dry glass.

With an eye on technology more generally, Smedley and Jackson note the following. [J.W, Smedley & Jackson, Caroline. (2002). Medieval and post-medieval glass technology: A review of bracken in glassmaking. Glass Technology - European Journal of Glass Science and Technology Part A. 43. 221-224]

'There is a strong but largely unsubstantiated belief that fern was used throughout Northwest Europe, and to a lesser extent southern Europe, as a source of alkali for the manufacture of potash glass by medieval glassmakers. This is because fern is mentioned in surviving documentary evidence relating to glass production and medieval glasshouses in NW Europe were often located in forests and other woodland where ferns grow freely.'

Though the evidence in the Rose poem is often obtuse, it seems that there was some understanding in the arts of a vegetal generative power at that time, such that man's vegetative powers might not have been confined just to the studies of the contemporary Christian scholastics. The Franciscan scholastic Roger Bacon of Oxford and Paris had sent his work on the multiplication of species De Multiplicatione Specierum, along with several other works, to the pope shortly before, in 1267-68.

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4. Sense in planted virtue

Planting virtue

Though we still talk of planting an idea or a seed in the mind, the medieval usage was rather different.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists a sense of plant [plant, v 3a] as to instil (an idea or feeling) in the mind, heart, etc. It illustrates this with two early known usages which are instilling a 'craft' [early Old English] or a 'virtue' [1340]. It continues with the usages, to plant gentillesse [1398] or contrition [1415].

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4.1 Planting a craft or virtue

The first usage, a planted craft, occurs in the translation by king Alfred (ca.848-899) into Old English of the Latin De Consul Philos by Boethius. Nicole G Discenza comments that Alfred used the word craft sixty-seven times in this translation, using it for spiritual or mental excellence, and specifically to mean virtue. [Discenza pp 89-90] She adds, he adapts the word craft to his purposes by using its most common senses at the time of translation [power, physical or mental skill, God's skill in creation] and adding a rarer usage of craft, 'spiritual merit'. In particular, he adds his own usage to the word craft: that is, 'virtue'. [Discenza p107]

[DISCENZA, NICOLE GUENTHER. Power, Skill and Virtue in the Old English 'Boethius', Anglo-Saxon England, vol 26, 1997, pp 81-108. JSTOR, Accessed 2 June 2020.]

Craft meaning virtue was thus the operative word in the creative relalionship between God and soul [Discenza p107]. It is hence no great surprise, albeit over 500 years later, that planted virtue appears in 1340 in Middle English.

Since the times of St Augustine (354-430), the Word of God was, 'that true light that lighteth every man that cometh into this world'. The Gospel of John begins, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God ... In him was life, and the life was the light of man'.

This light of life was evidently a basis for a notion of God's planted craft. Thereafter, this was an important planted virtue in a man such as not least applicable to king Alfred himself [note, vir in Latin means man though the spelling later changed in Middle English].

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4.2 'De Plantis' in Staffordshire

It might be no accident that the Middle English spelling of virtue was vertue, seemingly imbued with the French word vert for green.

Another Alfred, Alfred of Sareschel translated De Plantis from arabic to Latin and added his own gloss. It is estimated that he made the translation around 1190 to 1200 and then added the gloss perhaps in the following decade, 1200 to 1210. In his gloss, he states that greenness 'must be the most common characteristic of plant life'. He adds, there is a dominant measure of earthy humour but the colour of that humour, since it has an admixture of moisture and (minimal) heat, is green. He continues, in some leaves however, there is more moisture than the earthy element, and this lessens their intensity of green .. indeed we may note that when leaves dry out they turn yellow [Long pp135-6].

[LONG, JAMES (1985). Alfred of Sareshel's Commentary on the Pseudo Aristotelian De plantis: A Critical Edition, Philosophy Faculty Publications 15. Published as: Long, R. James (1985) Mediaeval Studies 47 (1985) 125-67]

Alfred goes on to associate colour with four types of plant: trees, bushes, herbs, and vegetables. For example he notes that, in a tree the heartwood is black ranging to the whiter colour of sapwood. Of the earthy and watery elements, a preponderance of earth produces black, and water produces white, with the balance giving the yellow colour of wood. [Long p137-8]

For the Oxford Franciscans Robert Grosseteste [written ca.1225-33] and later Roger Bacon [ca.1219-92] light was a study of God and all things in relation to God [Simon pp 153-4]. At the highest level, there was God's supreme light [lux sprema], associated with the Word of God, and the angelic creative light [lux creata]; the mind is not capable of understanding either of these. [Simon p164].

[OLIVER, SIMON. Robert Grosseteste on Light, Truth and 'Experimentum', Vivarium, vol 42, no 2, 2004, pp 151-180. JSTOR, Accessed 2 June 2020.]

Later, in the main Plant homeland of the later fourteenth century, there is 'God hadde plauntid paradise of delyte' which is a mix by the Pearl poet of making spiritual creation literal. Similarly this poet has 'that Wyz ... that al the worlde planted' which holds a glimpse of the earlier sense of 'planted craft' as God's skill in creation.

In particular, early usage also has it that planted gentillesse does not work, when planted naturally [by human generation] into noble lineage. On the other hand, contrition in the conscience is planted by God. More widely, the idea of the Word of God [lux suprema] planted through the angelic host [lux creata] underlies the contemporary scholastic Christian understanding of God's creation in general.

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4.3 The Christian scholastics

In late medieval times, when surnames were forming, the influence of the Church was great. Their beliefs and disputes may be ascertained from various writings of the scholastics, who were not least engaged in reconciling new translations of Aristotle [preserved in Arabic and being translated into Latin] with the prevailing neoPlatonic Christianity.

Medieval Christian beliefs were based in lage part on the writings of St Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD) who had favoured especially the teachings of Plato, in particular as conveyed by the neoPlatonic philosopher called Plotinus (204-270AD). Ancient Greek understanding had included belief in, for example, appetitive (sensory) and intellective powers in the vegetal. The subsequent neoPlatonic beliefs can be related to the Plantagenet name in as much as that vegetal qualities of purity, generative power, and good training, were ascribed to count Geffrey Plantegenest in the aforesaid Marmoutier text called 'Geffrey the Fair' (ca.1173-74). This was in connection with the occasion when Geffrey impressed his future father-in-law, king Henry I, at Rouen in eastern Normandy in 1128. I have included an outline this aspect of the vegetal more fully in our article: [here, JSP+REP (Jan 2017) JoONS 12(9) 11-14].

An indication of the developing scholastic teachings, in the times shortly after the Plantegenest name appears, is found for example in a sermon by the Bishop of Lincoln [the aforesaid Robert Grosseteste] around 1240. Here, he cautiously introduces a new 'Aristotelian' philosophy in connection with life, not least plant life. Concerning this sermon, James McEvoy comments...

'...either Grosseteste, with his learned Aristotlean and Avicennian references preached well above the heads of all [except for] a few university-trained canons and friars among his congregation, or we must revise fairly radically our notion of the general level of clerical education in Lincoln and England' [McEvoy 1980 p134]

MCEVOY 1980, James. Robert Grosseteste's Theory of Human Nature With the Text of His Conference 'Ecclesia Sancta Celebrat'. Recherches De Théologie Ancienne Et Médi&eacure;vale, vol. 47, 1980, pp. 131-187. JSTOR, Accessed 30 May 2020.

Sensitive to his congregation, Grosseteste preaches about plant life (not merely soul as the life-principal) as he ventures to consider appropriate in his neoPlatonic environment. The Christian tradition admitted just a body-soul duality, not yet the detailed operations of the soul [McEvoy 1980 p142]. However, this sermon includes some relevant emerging Latin words, relevant to a new emphasis on the Aristotelian vegetative soul. These are (including 'natural and animal life'):

vegetativam [p170]; vitae naturalis et animae [p172]; vegetatavis [p177].

In another paper [McEvoy 1973 p616], McEvoy estimates that the work 'On the generation of sound' was written early by Grosseteste, before 1209. This uses the triple division of man's soul: vegetative, sensitive, rational (the first shared with man, animals and plants; the second just man and animals; and the third by none other than man). This mention is in the passage:

'The very reason of the internal motion can be only in the breathing. However, its nature cannot be the first principle of it; and since it is not such a motion continuous in the animals, it is not produced by vegetative spirits, but it is coming from some perceptible motivations by a voluntary movement, anticipated necessarily by some previous imagination or perception, ...'

MCEVOY 1983, James. 'The Chronology of Robert Grosseteste's Writings on Nature and Natural Philosophy', Speculum, vol 58, no 3, 1983, pp 614-655. JSTOR, Accessed 7 June 2020.

SPARAVIGNA, Amelia Carolina. (2013) 'The Generation of Sounds According to Robert Grosseteste', The International Journal of Sciences, 2, 1-5, 10.18483/ijSci.311.

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4.4 Naming of Dieulacres in Staffordshire

This estimated date of 'De Generatione Sonorum' (before 1209) is of interest, since it predates the 1214 naming of Dieulacres Abbey near Leek in north Staffordshire. This name Dieulacres means 'God increase it', which would appear to have been inspired by the growth or augmentative power in the vegetative soul. The Dieulacres tradition for its naming is that it came in a dream of the founder's wife, Clemence de Fougères. She was from an east Brittany family whose lands neighboured those in west Normandy of the founder of Dieulacres in his north Staffordshire lands, namely the 6th earl of Chester, Ranulph Blundeville.

Around this time, the 1210 Council of Paris had forebidden the teaching of Aristotle's 'natural philosophy' though his ethics and logic were allowed. This was apparently of little concern for this noble Chester earl for an abbey name in his north Staffordshire lands. One reason could be that he was powerful enough and, from 1209 onwards, he had remained steadfastly loyal to England's 'Plantegenest' king. Perhaps even more important was that St Augustine of Hippo (345-430AD) was greatly favoured in Christian teachings and he had briefly mentioned these three powers of plants much earlier, albeit with the addition of another, to flourish: [De Libero Arbitrio I.8]

'For we see that we have many characteristics in common not only with animals but even with trees and plants. We know that trees, which are at the lowest level of life, take in nourishment, grow, reproduce, and flourish'

To this, we can add that this was topical in Staffordshire at the time when Dieulacres was founded. Alfred of Sareschel was adding his commentary to 'De Plantis' evidently further to the south in Staffordshire. The village of Sareshill is just 10 miles west of Lichfield Cathedral.

We know little about Alfred of Sareschel. He had been born in the mid twelfth century, had studied in Spain where he translated the 'Atistotelean' De Plantis [from Arabic to Latin] adding his own commentary around 1200-1210. It seems that he [or just possibly a namesake] had retired as a pribendary of the diocesan Cathedral at Lichfield by 1220. [Long pp 128-30]

The episcopal seat of the dioceses had returned to Lichfield in the twelfth century, after having been moved temporarily to Chester and then Coventry, creating the enlarged Diocese of Coventy and Lichfield.

Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield
Lichfield Diocese

Alfred's commentary on 'De Plantis' indicates that the Aristotelen augmentative power was likely a leading local topic of debate. More widely Alfred's earlier translation was influential. It seems that Clemence of Fougères could have been aware of it at the time of her dream of a name for an abbey in her husband's lands. This suggests some background to the name 'God increase it' for Dieulacres abbey. The couple were clearly fond of the abbey: the heart of her husband Ranulph was buried at Dieulacres in 1232 and the body of Clemence herself was buried there in 1253.

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4.5 A vegetal child and creation

'De Plantis' was believed at that time to have been written by Aristotle and this remained so until the sixteenth century. There are around 170 surviving copies, indicating its popularity. In 1254, Alfred's 'De Plantis' was prescribed by the Arts Faculty at Paris as a subject for examination. It had been widely used in schools for about 50 years until it was superseded by the magisterial work of Albertus Magnus in Paris, whose most famous pupil was St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) [canonised in 1323].

Aquinas subsequently wrote that the vegetative soul was the 'first principal of life'. In his Summa Theologiae in 1265-74, he considered Aristotle's three powers of the human vegetative soul: generation; the use of food; and growth. He argued for example that...

'of the three vegetative powers, the generative power, in a way, approaches to the dignity of the sensitive soul, which has an operation extending to extrinsic things' – [in other words, it transmits from man to a child who is in essence an external being]

In this way, Aquinas of Bologna and Paris included a nod to the still prevailing neoPlatonic vegetal soul with its aspects of the sensitive [and intellective] even though, in the coming Aristotelian scheme, the sensory soul was denied for plants [and the intellective was denied to both plants and animals]. Roger Bacon (d 1292) of Oxford and Paris wrote that most modern philosophers teach that the only soul created directly by God is the intelective [aspect of the human soul].

Thus, according at least to St Thomas, the 'most dignified' power of the vegetative soul, approaching the sensory soul, was that of generating children. In fact, an early sense of 'vegetal' offspring dates back at least as far as St Jerome (345-420), who is best known for translating the Bible direct from Hebrew into Latin. In a long letter, St Jerome describes his aristocratic follower Paula as a 'descendant' of the Gracchi. For this, he uses the Latin word suboles – this word can be associated with fragrance or stink but, with olus meaning 'kitchen-herbs' or 'vegetables' and sub meaning 'beneath', this forms an appropriated metaphor for human descent. Russell gives an English translation of this epitaph for St Paula as: [Russel p341]

'Within this tomb a child of Scipio lies - A daughter of the far-famed Pauline house - A scion of the Gracchi, of the stock - Of Agamemnon's self, illustrious'.

[RUSSELL, Bertrand. History of Western Philosophy, 2nd Edition (Allan & Unwin, 1961)]

I have added my own emphasis here of the vegetal words scion and stock that are used to refer to a child. For the converse, a scion or shoot or offshoot can apply to an offspring.

In a later text, plants were associated with the root of creation: [De divinus nominibus, x, 1 in P.G., III, 936 D]

'As the mighty root sends forth a multitude of plants which it sustains, so created things owe their origin and conservation to the All-Ruling Deity'

This is in a translation from Greek to Latin of Dionysius (pre500) by John the Scot who sent a copy to the Pope in 860. Though this was a non-Christian text that is now attributed to the 'pseudo'Dionysius, it was long revered by scholastics who confused its author with St Denis [Russell pp 398-99]. This translated text was closely contemporary with king Alfred's translation featuring God's 'planted craft'.

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4.6 Vegetal brethren

Returning to 1214, and a likely context for the founding beliefs of Dieulacres abbey, we can consider some further aspects of Alfred of Sareschel's ca.1200-10 commentary on De Plantis. We may note that this was an imperfect representation of the original, which he had earlier translated, but it is relevant for understanding the text's reception at that time. It was much shorter than his translation as it did not gloss the middle twenty-two chapters which amounted to around two-thirds of the whole. [Long p132] He claims to have added nothing of his own. However, that evidently proved irresistable, such that his commentary started a long tradition of commenting on its plant biology. [Long pp139-140]

Alfred declares for example that plants have four needs: a definite seed; a suitable place; moderate moisture; and a temporate climate. The first two were needed for generation and the other two for its nutrition and growth. [Long pp 133-135]

Alfred starts his gloss, with five basic forms [the prima genera] in our world below the heavens specifically: indistinct substances that are commonly called elements though they are really mixtures of them [confusa]; solidified substances [congelata]; and (in Latin) planta and anamalia. By congelata he means a whole class of metallic and non-metalic compounds, such as formed from clay by solidification. Plants and animals have life but, in plants, vital effects are few and hidden. [Long p131] From the start, Alfred notes that the congelata are subject to both generation and increase [generationem augmentumque] while plants, when roots allow, take up both reproduction and growth [generationem suscipit et crementum] albeit that they are a non-sensitive substance.

We may note that, although plant growth became known for its augmentative power, Alfred uses the Latin word augmentum for increase in minerals and the word crementum for the growth of plants. For example, on lines 8 to 10 of his commentary, he writes: [Long p146]

Planta uero, que radice suffatta, generationem suscipit et crementum; est enim animata insensibilio. [ll 8-9]
... In planta uero pauci sunt anime effectus. [ll 18]

The plant can, when the root allows, accept generation and growth; it is an insensible 'animate'.
... In the plant, few effects of the soul are operational.

Alfred adds [ll 109-113] that its lack of sensation is why the plant reproduces solely by dissemination, that is by the scattering of seed. [Long p 133] It should be termed a 'non-living animate' [animate non uiuens].

Our main interest here is that the name Plant is found around Dieulacres abbey, at least by the late fourteenth century. Like surnames in general, it is unlikely that the Plants would had theirs themselves but more likely they had been allocated it for the purposes of keeping records. This must have involved literate scribes with, one can likely suppose, some influence from the level of understanding grasped by the monks of Dieulacres.

By the time when records allow, the Plants appear most around Leekfrith; they are predominantly yeoman farmers on higher ground than the abbey site at the foot of the frith near Leek town. An relatively early survivng record record (1406) is a grant to Edward Plont from the abbot to lease two messuages on high ground at a grange of the abbey. In another (undated) the abbot grants Richard Plant the right to make an enclosure. At the time when the abbey is closed (1543), nine Plants are mentioned on its rent roll, renting having taken over from the earlier system of lay brothers.

Going by Alfred's early commentary, the Plant name does not appear to be too complimentary. That said, reproducing life without sensation is not entirely defamatory in a religious context. Also humilty was highly valued by the church. In a harsh context, the powers of growth and fertility, with the avoidance of carnal sin, would presumably have been considered righteous aims. A liitle after Alfred's commentary on 'De Plantis', Grosseteste (1230) used a flower to symbolise imagination. This was in his copy of St Augustine's 'De Civate Dei' [City of God]. As already noted, St Augustine had listed a fourth power of plants, to flourish. Flourishing is a type of fertile increase aided by adequate warmth [crementum] in bleak conditions.

A persuasive possibility is that those called Plant around Dieulacres were Cistercian conversi; that is converted lay brothers engaged in taming the moorlands on higher ground above the abbey. Though De Plantis itself was largely concerned with denying both intellective and sensory soul to plants, the early Plants survived in numbers, apparently with at least some planted craft or vertue.

The paternal royal influence since 1154 had come from the counts of Anjou whose history was recorded by the monks of Marmoutier. It might be relevant that their reinvented history appeared in 1227 and that it included reference to a vegetal regeneration of the abbey's fortunes. This was for its recovery from devastating Viking raids:

those who returned 'seeded' and 'planted' and attempted to restore its pristine rights. [Farmer p176]

'He [God] then resettled the hungering in the same place, and they constructed a city of habitation and seeded fields and planted vineyards and produced the fruit of birth'. [Farmer p178]

[FARMER, Sharon, Preservation through Time: Historical Consciousness at Marmoutier. Communities of Saint Martin: Legend and Ritual in Medieval Tours, by Sharon Farmer, Cornell University Press, Ithaca; London, 1991, pp 151-86. JSTOR, Accessed 25 June 2020.]

It seems that some similar wording might be applied to Dieulacres abbey which, at almost the same time as this Marmoutier history, relocated from Poulton near Chester (1214-20) to escape raids by the Welsh. They might even have brought some lay brethren with them to Dieulacres and there would no doubt have been at least some journeying between these two retained major sites. The Marmoutier wording evidently includes a similar sense to God's planted 'craft' as used by king Alfred, with evdently a creative root to allow a regenerative birth and renewed flourishing. There is a vegetal sense here that goes beyond just the 'literal' seeds and shoots and fruits of vegetation.

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4.7 Virtuous 'plant of pees'

Around 150 years after Grosseteste's flower symbol for imagination, William Langland personifies imagination with a female character called Imagination [Ȳmaginatif] in the poem Piers Plowman. Little is certain about this author (ca.1330-1385) though it seems that he likely had been born and educated ar Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire and had connections to Oxfordshire.

Around the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, a spritual understanding was being sought from knowledge about nature. For the purposes of this poem, this can be called 'kinde wit' to be gleaned from 'kinde knowledge'. This applies to a folk view to be set alongside, at that time, learning in the Church and the newly developing Universities. For acceptance by the latter, spiritual insight needed to be related to revelations about God's creation; in the poem, this is personified as 'clergie'. [Karnes p35]

KARNES, Michelle. 'Will's Imagination in Piers Plowman.' The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol 108, no 1, 2009, pp. 27-58. JSTOR, Accessed 10 June 2020.

The word plant appears near the start of the poem [passus II] when its main character, Will, is struggling with kinde-wit. The relevant lines in the A-version of the poem are:

For thus [wytnessith] his woord, werche thou theraftir,
That loue [love] is leuest thing that oure lord askith,
And ek [the] plante of pes; ...

The the mention of 'plant of pes' seems conflated with at least some focus on man's powers of generation, rather than a more scholastic emphasis on God's creation. Indeed, in some copies of the A-Text, the word 'plante' is replaced by 'plente' losing more religious sense than that which could otherwise be connected to God's 'planted virtue' of 'peace'. This seemingly changes the sense the more to a literal meaning, 'plenty of peas'.

In the C-Text version of this poem, this passage is developed a little further to:

For treuth telleth that loue [love] is triacle [for] synne
And most souerayne salue [sovereign salve] for soule and for body.
Loue is [the] plonte of pees, most precious of vertues,

This wording relates love to both soul and body, with a more explicit reference to a notion of planted virtue [spelled vertue]; but, again there appears to be some confusion between earthly and spiritual love, such as between the planting of human seed or peace. In short, the confusions involve man's generative love being somehow equated to the creative love of God.

The above references in the poem to the word plant are typical of Will's continued difficulties more generally in pinning down kynde-wit, until a middle part of the poem [passus B:XII] when Will benefits from some advice from the character Imagination. She advises him to be patient and emphasises the importance of humility and grace. More particularly, as noted by Michelle Karnes, [Karnes pp 36-38] Imagination explains the difference between two types of knowledge: kynde-wit is what we see and derives from natural faculties; and clergie is what we know and is revealed and must be learned. The main character Will had chosen kynde-wit to the exclusion of clergie until Imagination points out that Will does not have the option to reject clergie; that is clergie in the sense of a category of knowledge, which is distinct from rejecting their behaviour.

Another passage mentioning the word plant [B:XVIII] occurs towards the end of the poem [B:XX]. Will falls asleep and experiences a vision that represents the poem's climax. This includes love and the intersection of human and divine time. He witnesses a confused figure [Christ plus Good Samaritan plus Piers Plowman] riding into Jerusalem; and Christ's cruxification. This is followed by the four daughters of God [Truth, Justice, Mercy, Peace] in debate.

That debate can be compared, for example, to the 'Castle of Love' [Château d'Amour] which is attributed to Bishop Grosseteste of Lincoln (1235-53). This has God's daughters Peace and Justice kissing on Judgement day, prior to the rule of the Prince of Peace [Christ].

In Piers Plowman, the passage with the word plant is concerned with a tree propped up by the Trinity as a 'proper plant' [I have this discussed this previously in section 21.3 and Table 22.7 here]:

'The tree hatte Trewe-love,' quod he, 'the trinitie hit sette;
'Thise thre shorriares,' quod he, 'that bereth up this plonte,
'Bytokeneth trewly the Trinite of hevene,
'This is a propre plonte,' quod I, 'and priveliche hit bloweth,
'And bringeth forth fruyt, folke of alle nacion,

The idea of vegetal 'fruit' being 'folk' is reminiscent of the Marmoutier history where seeded fields produce the fruit of birth. In Landland's poem, there is initially reference to 'plonte of pees' as a planted virtue but evidently conflated with carnal generation. Later, following further instruction, the usage of plant progresses to a 'propre plonte' blowing privilege, bringing forth 'folke of alle nacion', and shored up by the Trinity of the Power of God the father (Potencia-dei-patris), His Wisdom (Sapencia-dei-patris), and His 'breath of life' (Spiritus Sanctus). In the end [passus B:XX] Kynde sends old age, death and pestilence and Will is attacked by old age. The personied character Conscience goes on pilgrimage to seek Piers the Plowman and calls on Grace for help: Will wakes up.

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4.8 Planted contrition and lineage

Planted contrition of sin clearly must come from God, not man. This is unambiguous in 'In Praise of Peace' by the poet laureate, John Gower (ca.1330-1408), when he wrote to the new Lancastrian King Henry IV [reigned 1399-1413]:

My lord, in whom evere yit be founde
Pite withoute spot of violence,
Kep thilke pes [peace] alwei withinne bounde,
Which god hathe planted in thi conscience;

[it is perhaps also relevant that the king's peace
could mean his region of direct rule, as opposed
to that ruled through another aristocrat]

Five hundred years after God's planted craft, stemming from king Alfred's translation of Boethius, the planted virtue of conscience continued a long tradtion of this usage of the word plant.

However, in the Wife of Bath's Tale (1398) by Chaucer, there is evidence that planted virtue was being considered also in an earthly generative sense, albeit deemed not to be successful: [lines 1134-1138]

  1134 If gentillesse were planted natureelly
If nobility were planted naturally
  1135 Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
Unto a certain lineage down the line,
  1136 Pryvee and apert thanne wolde they nevere fyne
Then in private and in public they would never cease
  1137 To doon of gentillesse the faire office;
To do the just duties of nobility;
  1138 They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
They could do no dishonour or vice.

This indicates that a virtous spiritual sense of God's creative light was also open to a more earthy sense of generation by man's seed.

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5. The homeland Pearl poet and interpretation

There were often dual interpretations – both literal and symbolic – as I have discussed above for the three names, Plantebene and Plantefolie and Planterose. Similarly, various meanings – both literal and spiritual – were being sought and elucidated by the contemporary scholastics, in particular for sacred texts. As also mentioned, there were developments concerning the 'vegetal' that might have impinged on some people's understanding of an older, more established sense of God's 'planted craft'. Even so, a more traditional understanding remained important; and, indeed, in the thirteenth century, there had been some resistance to the newly rediscovered Aristotelian ideas. For our focus on 'plant', there was some longstanding stability in so far as some particular meanings of this word had been used repeatedly since 383AD, since when St Jerome had translated the bible into the Latin Vulgate version.

In the context of literature for the Plant name in England, king John had lost Normandy in 1204 but a French cultural influence was still dominant nearly two hundred years later [Burrow, loc 228]. This major French influence applied not only to England: it was a general characteristic of medieval Europe, after ca.1100. The cultural and intellectual centres of France lay especially in the valleys of the Loire and the Seine [loc 239]. Few surviving Middle English texts exist for before 1300 [loc 284] but, nearer the end of the 1300s, the French poet Eustace Deschamps praised his English contemporary Geoffrey Chaucer: however, apart from customary pleasantries, he speaks of him only as a 'great translator' in connection with his Middle English translation of the French poem 'Roman de la Rose' [loc 217]. Moreover, not even French culture could match the importance of Latin, both classical and medieval, though only the better educated writers were fully cognisant of this. Its influence was not restricted to the times of Middle English because its influence had already been present in Old English [loc 308] from not least the Latin Vulgate bible.

[BURROW, J A. 'Medieval Writers and their Work: Middle English Literature 1100-1500' (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2008)]

For Arthurian romances, only one Middle English version survives that is directly translated from Chrétien de Troyes. This was 'Yvain and Gawain' which was adapted from the French 'Yvain'. Even so, the French influence of Chrétien can be seen in a major Middle English work, 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' [Burrow loc 250] dated to the later half of the 1300s. The location of this poem has been identified with the main Plant homeland, along with another major Middle English poem called 'Pearl', not to mention two shorter poems in the same manuscript. All these poems are most often ascribed to a single local poet, despite some occasional misgivings as mentioned below: they are in a distinct, relatively difficult dialect of Middle English.

As well as dialect placing these poems in a small area around the main Plant homeland [L in map below], the Gawain poem mentions a couple of relatively distant place-names for the approach of Sir Gawain to this region. Also, the poet's detailed attention to local landscape has identified some probable locations around Leek [L]. In some respects, this Arturian poem is a magical romance but this should not distract from the persuasive evidence that it was inspired not least by the poet's intricate knowledge of the Leek moorlands landscape. In travelling towards his fate in a beheading contest at the Green Chapel, we are told that Sir Gawain reaches 'the North Wales' [line 697] and leaves 'the iles of Anglesay' [698] on his left, fares 'the fords by the forlands' [699] at 'the Holy Hede' [700] until he enters 'the wilderness of the Wyrale' [701]. This tells us of a largely easy to recognise journey along the coast of North Wales as indicated by the mentions of Anglesey and the Wirral which are shown in the map below. [Elliot, p115]

Sir Gawain's approach to the main Plant homeland [L]

Gawain approach to the homeland through north Wales
After Elliott, p106.

The poet does not say where Gawain crossed the river Dee into the Wirral but Ralph Elliott singles out two places of special merit. One is Holywell [H] as an identity for the poet's Holy Hede, where according to legend, Price Caradoc struck off the head of St Winefride after failing to seduce her; the place became one of pilgrimage. The other is Aldford [A], a place-name meaning the 'old ford', where Watling Street crossed the river Dee south of Chester, a longtime major Roman road through Northwich to York; it had a branch to Middlewich shown to the east of Chester in map above. It seems more likely however that the medieval poet imagined Gawain continuing his journey along the medieval Earlsway to the moorlands around Leek [L]. In this Plant homeland, such local place-names as Knar and Knotbury and Flash display topographical terms that were used by the poet. [Elliott pp 115-6]

[ELLIOTT, Ralph 'Landscape and Geography', pp 105-18 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

At the above mentioned places of Aldford and Middlewich and Leek, there were lands and properties of Dieulacres abbey whose chronicles give a few indications of their local activities at that time: pigs and sheep and fishing rights are mentioned at Aldeford, salt springs for example at Middlewich and much pasture amongst other things around Leek. [Wagstaff pp 87, 90] I shall return to the Gawain poem and the main Plant homeland in some fuller detail below.

The poet's poems, especially Patience and Cleanness, can be understood better by identifying their versions of multiple extracts from the bible. For the literate clerks, who recorded early mentions of Plant and similar names in their Latin administrative accounts, it seems that these clerks could have been sometimes predisposed towards coining occasional name forms that had both literal and symbolic meanings, as indicated above for Plantebene for example. Senses gleaned from the local poems of the so-called 'Pearl poet' can help to provide a detailed context for the Plant name, directing us not least to consider both 'spiritual' and 'literal' aspects of meaning.

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5.1 The Pearl poet

Hardly anything is known about the so-called Pearl poet, also known as the Gawain poet. Since the mid nineteenth century, the urge to find a name for this poet has proved to be a strong one, and various hypothetical identifications have been proposed. [Andrew p28] For example, relatively recently, in the mid twentieth century, the name Hugh Massey was advanced and some variations on that theme followed, including a supposition that he was a John Massey of Coton [near Chester] in Cheshire. [Finch p2]

[FINCH, Casey, 'The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet' (University of California Press, 1993)]

[ANDREW, Malcolm 'Theories of Authorship', pp 23-34 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

Malcolm Andrew (1997) notes for example that Michael J Bennett (1979) provided an interesting and scholarly argument that the cultural milieu for the poet's work was the court of Richard II, which had strong connections with the North-West, especially Cheshire; he thereby proposed the name of Richard Newton for the poet. Though this was firmly rejected by Derek Pearsall (1982) he stresses the value of Bennett's study as a whole. [Andrew p31] Andrew goes on to note that studies of objective authorship tests have been plainly inconclusive not least because of the difficulty of comparing Pearl with the other three poems, given its distictiveness in terms of both style and form; he concludes that the prospects of a fully convincing authorship test for all four poems would still seem remote. [Andrew p33]

There is a single medieval manuscript for all four surviving poems. Though untitled, they have since been called: 'Pearl', 'Cleanness', 'Patience', and 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. From another manuscript there is also, 'Saint Erkenwald'. All five are associated with very closely similar authors, and sometimes probably just one; but with the probable exception of Saint Erkenwald. Though this goes against the Massey theory, [Andrew p28] Andrew comments that a belief that the authorship of St Erkenwald was the same as the other four is increasingly 'a thing of the past'. [Andrew p27] The poems are generally dated to around 1377-1386 although possibly earlier, with for example one outlying suggestion of perhaps around 1362 for the poem, 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' [SGGK]. [Finch pp 1-3]

As already outlined, a reasoned case has been made, by Professor R W V Elliott (1958) for connecting the Gawain poem 'SGGK' in particular with the lands of Dieulacres abbey at the core of the main Plant homeland, as mentioned not least in British History Online: [ accessed 11 June 2020]

Tolkein 2nd edition Gawain book cover

For example, the Introduction of the book depicted above notes that:

[J R R Tolkein and E V Gordon, 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' (2nd Edition, edited by Norman Davis, 1967) pp xiii-xiv]

From its linguistic forms ... scholars have mostly agreed that 'SGGK' must have come from the north-west midlands ... and there was probably no important difference between the language of the scribe and that of the poet. Professor Angus McIntosh [from localised documents] has concluded that 'SGGK' can only fit with reasonable propriety in a very small area either in SE Chesire or just over the border in NE Staffordshire.

With added geographical analysis, Prof Ralph Elliott identified in more detail Sir Bertilak's hunting scenes with the landscape around Dieulacres abbey's grange at Swythamley, near the boundary of NE Staffordhire with Cheshire. Also the poem's climax at the Green Chapel is identified with the nearby Lud's Church. Moreover, Ralph Elliott suggests that the inspiration for the beheading quest in the poem was the beheading of John de Warton at Leek in a case of 1380: a case that involved the Dieulacres abbot and several others – for our purposes, we may note that the proceedings of this case included a royal pardon for Thomas Plant, though other evidence for Thomas suggests that this could have related to a pardoning of an earlier incident in 1363.

More generally, the Pearl-poet's poems relate some biblical stories and promote Christian virtue, alongside the Arthurian quest in 'SGGK'. The poems are sensitive to ideal forms of behaviour and courtly courtesy as well as the human limitations of a chivalrous knight.

[see also Finch p368; and J A BURROW and Thorlac TURVILLE-PETRE, A Book of Middle English (Blackwell, Oxford, 1992)]

For medieval literature more generally, an idiosyncratic point needs explanation. J A Burrow coments, 'It is not that medieval people were unconcerned with the distinction between fiction and fact; but that distinction appears to have played a relatively modest part in their typology of texts.' Their imperfect understanding in received versions of Aristotle's 'Poetics', which had long been accepted unlike some of Aristotle's other works, allowed them the idea that the chief function of poetry was to praise virtue and to blame vice. [Burrow (2008) loc 370] The contemporary literature speaks of planting vertue (sic) and rooting up thorns of vice.

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5.2 Cleanness as a sermon

The poem Cleanness has at times been criticised as repetitive, discursive, unorthodox, and poetically the weakest of the poems. It is better understood it terms of medieval preaching however.

Three-fifths of Cleanness is more or less a direct rendering of various passages from the Latin Vulgate bible, while nine-tenths of Patience are adaptions from the same source. [Newhauser p258] The poet's technique is to rationalise the Biblical narrative by supplying psychological motivations for the actions. The importance of this for the poet accounts for many of his techniques in adapting texts from the Vulgate bible. [Newhauser p259]

[NEWHAUSER, Richard 'Sources II: Scriptual and Devotional Sources' pp 257-76 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

The poem Patience takes the form of a relatively straightforward homily, a form of preaching that had developed in the early Middle Ages and which remained popular in later medieval times. This involved retelling the gospel along with any spiritual or moral lessons that the preacher wished to add. [Newhauser p260] Cleanness however takes the rather more complex form of a 'university' (or 'scholastic') sermon; it does not concentrate on a single narrative, but rather on an assembly of biblical stories which are figuratively related into types of God's last judgment. [Newhauser p264]

Monica Brzezinski has accordingly reasoned that Cleanness is written in the form of a conventional University sermon of its time. This includes stating a biblical text as a theme, adding a protheme, then considering various contexts [exempla] and including a consideration of both failures [filth] and successes [cleanness] in living up to the initially stated theme. Its biblical text is the sixth Beatitude [Matthew 5:8] which is, 'Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God'. This is announced on lines 24-28 of the poem and repeated in different ways later [Cleanness lines 176, 178, 552, 576, 595, 1055, 1112, 1809-12]. The pro-theme is the parable of the wedding feast [Matthew 22:1-4] as a suitable place to see the image of God.

[BRZEZINSKI, Monica. 'Conscience and Covenant: The Sermon Structure of Cleanness' The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol 89, no 2, 1990, pp 166-180. JSTOR, Accessed 15 June 2020]

In modern metaphor, we usually distinguish clearly between figurative and literal meanings. However, in a recent book, Garrison notes that this is not always so straightforward in the writings of the Pearl poet. Awkwardly for a modern reader, Garrison notes, the poet troubles the boundaries between literal and figurative meaning by conflating the two: [Garrison p61]

'This conflation is most marked by the poem's refusal to distinguish between literal and figurative filth. ... When the poet describes Christ's nativity [Cleanness, lines 1075-76], he dwells almost exclusively on the spotlessly clean nature of the manger.

'In order to demonstrate the sanctity of Christ's birth, the poet has to imagine the stable as a different location: it becomes both aristocratic and priestly as the poet compares it to a bower [cf. le Feullie above] and a sacristy, respectively. The poet prevents readers from understanding these considerations as wholly figurative by insisting on such details as the stable's mysterious rose scent.'

[GARRISON, Jennifer, 'Challenging Communion: The Eucharist in Middle English Literature' (Ohio State Uni Press, 2017); Chapter 2, 'Devotional Submission and the Pearl-poet', pp 51-80]

Taking this poem as a sermon, with its theme and pro-theme both based on religious texts, it becomes more readily understandable; this helps answer the charge that for example this poem is unorthodox in its 'scholarly' development of two biblical texts. In the contemporary exegesis, as I will explain more fully below, it was not only customary to distinguish between literal and spiritual meanings but also to consider that sacred texts have come to us by revelation, such that the spiritual [or 'figurative'] meaning is known to us through certain facts and, as such, God's spiritual intended sense was deemed to be 'literal'. As Garrison notes, the spiritual senses in Cleanness cut across our usual analysis of modern metaphor.

If we follow Brzezinski's analysis, the passage on Christ's birth for example comes at the start of the third and last context [exemplum] in the poem and follows the prophesy [Isaiah 66:7] that in the Messianic reign, women will give birth without pain. [Bzezinski pp 178-9] The translation below, from Finch's compendium, elides this point of God's intervention to alleviate pain. This is in keeping with an audience of most modern readers with their lack of attention to the detail of this biblical point. The relevant lines of the poem [the original and Finch's translation] are:

[Cleanness ll 1075-80, original text]
Watz never si blysful a bour as watz a bos þenne,
Ne no schroud hous so schene as a schepon þare,
Ne non so glad vnder God as ho þat grone schulde.
For þer watz seknesse al sounde þat sarrest is halden,
And þer watz rose reflayr where rote hatz ben euer,
And þer watz solace and songe wher sorȝ hatz ay cryed;

[Finch p149]
But their byer proved a bower blissful and clean;
Their manger a marvellous manor house seemed.
No woman was ever so wonderously glad,
For the groaning was gone in the giving of birth.
There was rose scent where reeking and rankness had been;
There was solace and singing where sorrow had come.

As already noted, this is at the start of the third and final exemplum, which is a biography of the life of Christ. By this stage of the poem, the sixth Beatitude had been deveoped [Brzezinski p169]. So also had the pro-theme, that the image of God is God's kingdom, as paraphrased from the parable of the wedding feast [Matthew 22:1-14]. Earlier in the poem, as early as lines 165-72, the pro-theme had become: [Finch p111]

'But be careful that your clothes are as clean as can be, And fair for the feast, lest you find yourself harmed When approaching the Prince Who has parentage high: As He hates hell itself, our Lord hates unclean. Of what kind are these clothes you must clothe yourself in To appear before that Prince in the proper attire? In a word: what you wear are the works you have performed; They're the love and the labours that lie in your heart.'

And by the sixth repeat of the theme, the sixth Beatitude has become:

[Sixth Beatitude, Matthew 5:8]
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God

[Sixth repeat, Finch p149, Cleanness ll 1053-56]
If our God is given to good, sinless acts,
And you're craving to come to his court in the sky,
If at last you are longing to look on his face,
Then be clean. Better councel I cannot advise.

This is followed by the Pearl-poet's only reference to Jean de Meun's 'Roman de la Rose'. Many copies of the Rose poem have illustrations that betray rather profane interpretations, others have dwelled more on the poem's spiritual meanings. In the poem 'Cleanness', the Pearl-poet points to the wisdom of the Rose-poet when he says that to impress a lady, a man should imitate her characteristics so she can see her own image in him. Christ is the perfect image of God since he is God. Hence like the exegetes, the Cleanness poem makes the sight of God the fulfilment of one's imitation of Christ. [Brzezinski pp 178-9]

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5.3 Medieval exegesis

A critical explanation of the scriptures had developed slowly in the Middle Ages though this was changing by around the times when surnames were forming. This so-called 'medieval exegesis' (interpretation) can be outlined very briefly by the following extracts from an article by James Vosté:

'The second period of the Latin exegesis, from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, had more depth than the first (8th to 11th centuries) but neither period had a genuine creative originality ... the Bible becomes an object of scientific study .. [though] .. exegesis had not yet reached the stage of scientific specialisation'

[VOSTÉ, James M, 'Medieval Exegesis', The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol 10, No 3, (July, 1948) pp 229-249]

This second period begins: [Vosté pp 232-234]

'... from the twelfth century and especially with Abelard [d 1142] the 'Sacred Doctrine' no longer consists of reading the Bible and some commentaries on it of the Fathers [early Christian authorities], but in grouping texts in an independant manner according to their agreement in subject and in an order inspired by Logic ... To the simple 'lectio' or gloss, there is added little by little ... the 'Quaestio' ... [with answers and] ... soon follow arguments for and against 'the solutions' [in the manner of the philosophers since ancient times]

'The interpretation of this [12th century] period is characterised, on the one hand, by its interest in theological explanations [of the Christian Doctrine] and, on the other, by the search for the literal sense'

Language skills for example were a major consideration: [Vosté pp 237-8]

'... it certainly seems that in the thirteenth century, this erudition in language was on the wane in the theologians themselves, and that it was ... specialists in the field who recalled the urgent need of learning the ancient languages. The initiator of this campaign was Robert Grossteste [Oxford]; its most vehement champion was the Franciscan, Roger Bacon [Oxford and Paris] ... The theologians and exegetes [spiritual interpretors] of the thirteenth century, such as ... Thomas Aquinas [Bologna and Paris] were ignorant of Greek and Hebrew. ... [However] ... the knowledge of [these] Oriental languages began to spread with the misionary movements of the Franciscans and Dominicans ...'

Another consideration was the great efforts to distinguish an 'intended' spiritual meaning from a literal one: [extracts from Vosté pp 238-40]

'The obvious sense of the account or the words is the literal or historical sense. The sense which is concealed and expressed by the things, persons or deeds is the spiritual sense ...

'Thirteenth century exegesis [interpretation] had a profound respect for tradition ... cited all the patristic interpretations [i.e. those of the earlier Christian authorities], as did Bede ...

'St Thomas [Aquinas] was faithful to this method, yet he did not hesitate to make his own choice and to propose a personal interpretation based on the literal sense and context...

'... the great masters of the thirteenth century ... applied to the Sacred Books the same method as to the [rediscovered] philosophical works of Aristotle'

Directly relevant to the aforesaid problem of disentangling the figurative from the literal, there was an important extra twist for the Bible in particular. In reply to a question, Aquinas reasons roughly as follows. The intended meaning of the author matters and, in the case of the Bible, the author is God. Since God teaches not only by words but also in other ways, such as by fact, this is a special case for which the spiritual meaning is also His literal Doctrine. [condensed from Vosté p241]

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5.4 Plonttez as God's planted 'vertue'

The poems' author inhabited a Christian culture which interpreted life as a channel of God's grace and which viewed Nature as a book written by God to be 'read' by his creatures; this world had also inherited allegorical methods of understanding the Scriptures, through story, play, and picture. Within such images as nut and shell, or fruit and chaff, theologians and poets cautioned their audience against concentrating merely on the letter and neglecting spiritual sense. Even in secular literature, the poetry of love shared many motifs with religious art, such as in the Roman de la Rose with its Garden of Love which, in Christian rendition, draws upon the Garden of Eden as an idealised place of safety or comfort; this thirteenth-century Rose poem also includes the personified feelings of its heroine, signified by the Rose. [Martin p315] Though similar in some ways, the fourteenth-century Pearl poem opens with a scene of late summer, not with the nubile life of spring, and this immediately sets the poem slightly at odds with the love quest of the Rose poem, despite the shared garden setting and romantic vocabulary. [Martin p318]

[MARTIN, Precilla 'Allegory and Symbolism' pp 315-28 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

As another aspect, Felicity Riddy suggests that, though the Pearl poem is a jewel in itself, it does not go for the glamour of the contemporary European literature so much as for the glamour of European luxury. Its narrator differs from the speaker of dream visions in other contemporary poems: the bookish failed lover in Chaucer's dream visions and the dissatisfied vagrant, half hermit, half layabout of Langland's poem Piers Plowman. [Riddy p149] In Pearl, the poignant transience of dreams is not unlike a jeweller's sense of 'tresor'; the impermanent holding of jewels traded by a jeweller, passing on from hand to hand; being melted and reshaped or even 'ground into powder' as in one account of John of Gaunt's treasure during the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in SE England. The grief of the Pearl narrator is expressed not only in the language of courtly love but also that of a father like a goldsmith or jeweller broken-hearted at the loss of his beautifully crafted art. [Riddy p154}

[RIDDY, Felicity 'Jewels in Pearl' pp 143-55 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

Martin states that, at the start of the Pearl poem, the jeweller cannot reconcile himself to the loss of the perfect pearl by means of concentrating only on its symbolism. Subsequently, a sketchy 'psychomachia' (conflict of soul) emerges in the complex emotion roused by a vision of his transformed young Pearl-maiden. The narrating Dreamer's 'gostly drem' [lines 185, 790] of his lost two-year old Pearl is not abstract in being disembodied as a ghostly dream, but more intense than a waking physical experience. This is set in an 'erber' [a garden including herbs] which manifests life, death and rebirth and thereby suggests a tension between two opposed interpretations of life: that we die more decisively than the garden's fruits and flowers; or, that their renewal prefigures our own. [Martin p316]

Garrison [pp 61-62] notes for the Pearl poem that the Dreamer imagines his dead Pearl-maiden as a seed in the ground from which grain will grow. In this way, he depicts Pearl's death as a beginning of new life. This corresponds to the biblical passage [John 12:24], 'Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.' Hence, with modern translations, lines 31-32 of Pearl are:

[Pearl ll 31-32]
For uch gresse mot of grynes dede
No whete were elles to wones wonne'

[Finch p45]
From dying husks new husks are spread;
No wheat would else reach winnow-bin.

[Tolkein and Gordon]
For all grass must grow from grains that are dead,
No wheat would else to barn be won.
[Pearl, edited by Gordon, Oxford 1953]

With more attention to the detailed meaning in the original, Luttrell [p282] notes that a fuller sense passes through these lines [Pearl 25-36]. They start with the point that rich vegetation must of necessity grow where his rotting pearl lies, appealing to the universal truth of the aforesaid John 12:24 or I Corinthians 15:36.

[LUTTRELL, Claude. 'The introduction to the dream in the PEARL', Medium Ævum, vol 47, no 2, 1978, pp. 274-291. JSTOR, Accessed 13 June 2020]

But then the poem modifies this, by making it clear that the quality of such growth is attributed not to enrichment of the soil by rot, but to the likelihood that his pearl could not fail to act as a seed. [Pearl ll 34-36] For this, the poem continues 'so excellent a seed might not fail to cause flourishing spices to spring up from that precious pearl' [Luttrell pp 282-3]

A little later in the poem, the Dreamer's spirit rises: [translations by Finch pp 47-8]

[Pearl ll 61]
My 'spyryt' soared from that spot to the sky

[Pearl ll 97-8]
Through wondrous woods of wide array,
Then forth by Fortune I was led.

This leads on to a rare mention by the local Plant homeland Pearl poet of the word 'plant'. As this is central to our main interests on this website, I shall discuss these relevant lines in some detail, starting with four different translations that have been suggested poeticly for them:

[Pearl ll 103-4]
Þe fyrre in þe fryth, þe feier con ryse
Þe playn, þe plonttez, þe spyse, þe perez

[Finch p49]
Dear was each display
Of fruit tree, spice and flowerbed

[Tolkein and Gordon]
More fair the further afield I went
Were plants, and fruits, and spices spread

[Pearl, translated by J R R TOLKEIN, edited by E V GORDON, Oxford, 1953]

As through the woods my footsteps stray
Field, shrub, and spice, and each pear-tree

[Bill STANTON, accessed 24 July 2020]

Fowers were fairer the further I went,
among sedges, shrubs, spices and pears

[Pearl translated by Simon ARMITAGE, Faber and Faber, 2016, loc 194]

Although the above translations, progress in order towards a somewhat more faithful representation of the original Middle English wording, the last [Armitage] still gives a non-literal and, in that sense, a doubtful word 'shrubs' in the place of the Pearl poet's chosen word 'plonttez'. Based on my lengthy discussion above, it is certainly the case that a full understanding of the medieval word 'plant' is not straightforward. This word's fuller medieval sense is unsurprisingly lost in the above translations and replaced by a 'modern poetic gloss' thereby missing an important point that matters to us with our own particular perspective. Instead of seeking a fuller and more precise meaning for the word 'plant', the priority in the above translations is to appeal more readily to a flow of emotions understood by a modern mind using a different choice of just a few words.

Finlayson comments more in line with medieval sense for this section of the Pearl poem that most of the elements mentioned could be part of a down to earth landscape: cliffs, forests, rocks. With this, the poem is 'packed with a fairly swift moving, sensually vivid description that is largely of a landscape composed of objects from nature bathed in light [but] with a few significant elements to separate it from the terrestrial world'. [Finlayson pp 323-4]

[FINLAYSON, John. 'Pearl: Landscape and Vision'. Studies in Philology, vol 71, no 3, 1974, pp 314-343. JSTOR, Accessed 14 June 2020.]

At least to my mind, the two lines [Pearl ll 103-4] do exactly as Finlayson suggests, rising from the terrestrial plain to heavenly perfection. Hence, to recast our own particular focus onto these two lines, I suggest the following for a more literal, medieval understanding:

[Pearl ll 103-4]
Þe fyrre in þe fryth, þe feier con ryse
Þe playn, þe plonttez, þe spyse, þe perez

The further into the wood, the fairer can rise,
The plain, the planted craft, the rising spirit, the 'peers' [perez, see also below]

To justify the detail of this, we can start with the word 'spyse' and refer back to lines 34-36 of the poem:

So seml a sede moȝt fayly not,
Þat sprygande spycez vp ne sponne

[Tolkein and Gordon]
And fail so fair a seed could not,
So that sprang and sprouted spices none

Here there is notably 'spices springing up' [spryngande spycez vp, in the original] of necessity. This remains consistent with our two lines of which the first ends with pointing to a rising elevation [the feier con ryse, line 103]. Hence, in the second line, spice aroma [the spyse] does just that. Moreover, later in the poem [lines 235, 938], the poet refers to his Pearl-maiden as 'the special spice' [Finch p345 note 235] which adds further elevation in life rising up the so-called Great Chain of Being to the Dreamer's ultimate conception of his Pearl-maiden as one of the brides of Christ in heaven.

We can also offer a different meaning for the word 'perez' at the end of line 104, different from the suggested gloss of 'pears' by Armitage. This is favoured by the first four lines of the poem:

Perle plesaunte, to prynces paye
To clanly clos in golde so clere:
Oute of oryent, I hardyly saye,
Ne proued I neuer her Precios pere.

which translates as: [Tolkein and Gordon]

Pearl of delight that a prince doth please
To grace in gold enclosed so clear,
I vow that from over orient seas
Never proved I any in price her peer [pere].

It seems clear that, for the last word 'pere' above, the narrator is pointing to the great price of a pearl and not having found her 'equal in monetary value on earth'. This accords with the poem starting on an earthly level: literally, in lines 9-10, the pearl has been lost in an erber, slipping through the grass to the ground [Martin p323] before, starting from line 61, the narrator begins to eke out a moral lesson beyond a selfish and literatal understanding of his loss. [Martin p322] This then leads on to our line 104 where there are vertical links from earth towards heaven that are beginning to be developed. Hence, the word 'perez' at the end of this line becomes raised to a level of an 'equal in heaven'.

Thus, in these two lines that are of particular interest to us, a sense of elevation is first signalled at the end of line 103 with 'the fairer can rise' and this is followed by 'the plain' as a base level on earth for line 104. Then, after 'spyse' with its rising spiritual aroma, there is by the end of the line 'equality [the perez] in heaven', with 'the plonttez' placed between the earthly plain and a vertically rising spirit. We can also note that our word of interest, the 'plonttez', is not the more usual medieval word 'erbes' which appears elsewhere in the poem but instead a unique indicator of something rather different.

A note on grammar. For the Middle English grammar, we can consider line 104 in still further detail. Burrow and Turville-Petre note that '-es' is the Pearl poet's usual ending, for all of the following: the plural noun (though sometimes -en); the plural imperitive; the present indicative of the verb except for the first person singular (though -eth for the third person singular and plural is more normal a little further to the south). [Burrow and Thorlac pp 23, 31-32] Also for the Pearl poet, the ending can be -ez or -es for verbs in the present tense for the second or third person singular and for the plural imperitive. [Burrow and Thorlac p159]

[BURROW J A and Thorlac Turville-Petre, 'A Book of Middle English', (Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1992).]

Grammatically, the senses of the word 'plonttez' can include: 'the plantes'; and, 'he plantez' not dissimilar to 'he planteth' in the dialect a little further to the south.

Hence, we might consider whether there is a deliberate reason for the ending -ez of 'the plonttez' – could there be a verbal aspect to this noun and, for the main focus of the Pearl-poet, a sense of 'the craft that God planteth'. This could be related to a long-standing sense from Old English: 'God plants His craft' leading on to an explicit Middle English sense: 'His planted vertue (sic)'. [section 4.1 above]

For the vertical aspect of line 104, as well as God 'planteth' downwards, there is also the 'vegetabilis' aspect of a shoot growing upwards. [section 4.4] This fits with the 'young shoot' sense of 'plant' – this was more the emphasis for the noun plant at that time, with an implication closer to its having been 'newly planted' and starting to grow; albeit that these emphases are generally overlooked by a modern reader as evidenced not least by the aforementioned poetic translations.

We should add for consistency however, a further consideration of the word 'perez' at the end of line 104. The Oxford English Dictionary [OED] lists 'peer' as both noun and intransitive verb, with evidence for the verb (peren) appearing first in the contemporary poem 'Piers Plowman'. This allows such an implication as 'she who is made equal' (by God).

For the -ez ending of line 104, there is also a question of whether poetic rhyme is influencing the choice of words by the poet, though alternatively the spelling could be that of a scribe closely following the words of the poet. Even though rhyming lines of poetry was much less of a requirement in medieval alliterative poetry, Riddy notes that the poem Pearl uses both alliteration and [sometimes] rhyme at the end of lines. [Riddy p147] Indeed, with not only 'perez' at the end of line 104, there is also a patch of '-ez' endings to the lines: 98, 100, 102, 104, 105, 107, 121-129, 131.

In response, we might note that the 'plonttez' is not at the end of line 104. Also, the 'playn' and the 'spyse' are both singular which is not at all surprising for the 'playn' but a little less expected with a single 'spyce' following a modern supposition of many plants.

And so we might allow such a sense for 'plonttez' as 'the plonteth of His craft or vertue' (by God). For the noun 'plant', there are also the listed early senses in the Oxford English Dictionary, indicating a plant heightened up the Great Chain of Being, as a 'young person' or 'novice' [OED plant sb 1b] These are consistent with a 'rising status' from a mineral pearl to a heavenly maiden mirroring an enlivened planted soul rising to a religiously enhanced novice. The latter could suggest a monastic novice seeking God's virtue. Or similarly, with the Welsh plural, such a sense could apply to a collection of monastic 'conversi', each striving for a spiritual planting of His [God's] craft or 'vertue'. [section 4.6 above] These are important points for our purposes to which I shall return later.

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5.5 Planted craft and two crafts

At least for a poet there were two crafts: body and soul. The North-West Midlands dialect was heard at the court of Richard II [section 2.2 above] and the dialect of the poem St Erkenwald is similar to that of the four poems that have been ascribed as likely to one poet. The action in this fifth poem is set in London and this poem is found in a diffferent manuscript from the other four. Whether this fifth poem is by the same poet as the other four has been doubted, including in recent times.

In Saint Erkenwald, the poet talks of two crafts, soul and body, with specifically 'Corrupt was that other craft that covered the bones'. This is in the final climax referring to the miraculously instant decay of the corpse of a pagan. Lines 345-6 of 'Saint Erkenwald' read:

For as soon as þe soule was sesyd in blisse [i.e. the soul was taken into heaven]
Corrupt was þat oþir crafte that couert [covered] þe bones.

The above except from 'Saint Erkenwald' suggests an old simple understanding of 'soul' without the complexities of the recently rediscovered Aristotelean philosophies which Grosseteste had described, a little over a century earlier, in terms of 'life' rather than 'soul', apparently to avoid too much contemporary controversy. More straightforwardly, we can add that any mention of Groseteste's 'creative light' [lux creata in section 4.2 above] does not require any detailed understanding of the newer philosophies. We can simply appeal to the Pearl-poet's fondness for the bible, since this creative light shines out from its start, in the opening lines of both Genesis and the gospel of John.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [Genesis 1:1] Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters [1:2] And God said, ''Let there be light'' and there was light [1:3]

[Wycliffe version 1382-95] In the beginning God made of nought heaven and earth. [2] Forsooth the earth was idle and void, and darknesses were on the face of depth; and the Spirit of the Lord was borne on the waters. [3] And God said, Light be made, and the light was made. [4] And God saw the light, that it was good, and he parted the light from darknesses;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [John 1:1] He [Christ] was with God in the beginning [1:2] Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made [1:3] In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind [1:4]

[Wycliffe version] [1] In the beginning was the word, and the word was at God, and God was the word. [2] This was in the beginning at God. [3] All things were made by him, and without him was made nought, that thing that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men;

One can hardly doubt that God's light was known to the Pearl-poet, given the prominent role in the Bible of this belief. The Spirit of the Lord was the light of mankind to which can be added, 'There was a very light, which lighteneth each man that cometh into this world' [Wycliffe John 1:9]. This can be loosely associated with a notion of God's planted virtue.

More widely, the above biblical gospels relay the importance of God's role in the origins of everything. In the main Plant homeland, with its association with the Pearl-poet, God's 'planted Word' appears in an inscription above the doorway of Wincle Chapel. In the bible, in the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God. [John 1:1] With this, we might consider whether God's planted Word in the homeland stretched to a wider sense of God's creative craft, as well as just his light in man.

Here Doe O Lord Svre Plant Thy Word - Wincle Ch

Wincle Inscription

A frequent feature in the Pearl-poet's poetry is a tension between some inclusion of opposites. For example, the Gawain poem begins with Christmas feasting at Camelot castle folowed by the entry of the Green Knight offering to be beheaded on New Year's Day. Sir Gawain takes up the challenge and, one year later, there is Christmas fasting, not feasting, at Hautdesert castle before Sir Gawain offers himself to be beheaded on New Year's Day by the Green Knight in his Green chapel. [Martin p318]

Beyond these poems, there was a tradition of 'planted vertue' and, with vert meaning green in French, a sense of planting greenery as well as more obviously planting Christian virtue. There was also the thirteenth-century name Plantefolie with a sense of planting an arbour with foliage for shade but, with folie meaning wickedness, there is also a sense of planting the opposite of virtue, that is uncleanliness. It would seem that this fashion for setting opposites extended beyond poetry to coining names.

To summarise the points above, since the times of king Arthur's ninth-century translation of Boethius, 'planted' was used in English in connection with God's planted 'craft'. Though in the ninth century this could conceivably have had many meanings, the documented senses in Middle English include planted 'vertue' or virtue which has been identified with an Old English sense of craft. In the poem 'St Erkenwald', there were two crafts, body and soul, and the latter for a Christian could be taken into heaven whereas the body returned to earth. The Wincle Chapel inscription beseeches the Lord to Plant His Word, at the location of the chapel in the main Plant homeland; there is also reference in the Pearl poem here to 'the plonttez', hence perhaps our modern understanding of literal plants but more widely planted virtue or the Word as God's spiritual 'plonteth'. The Lord's planted Word can accordingly be considered as His planted 'vertue' or, for the scholastics, the life-giving 'vegetabilis' component of man's soul, as well as the soul's spiritual component with a figurative Cleanness to befit seeing God's image through the grace of His Word. I will return to the biblical senses of 'plant' below.

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5.6 Planted people

The Pearl-poet's fondness for the Bible suggests that we should not neglect other vegetal references in it. Wycliffe's Middle English translation (1382) was refined posthumously by his friend John Purvey (1395). This came about after the Plant name had first appeared in medieval Latin documents.

We should not neglect the likely limits to a depth of understanding of the Vulgate bible by some Latin scribes, those who worked in some of the less regal courts and houses. Nontheless, there could have been a strong biblical influence on the usage of vegetal words in church preaching, alongside the Latin of such records as those of Dieulacres abbey and the Macclesfield court. It is hence relevant to consider not only the Latin bible but also how it was translated into Middle English. Along with the aforesaid poems, the more general transmission of the Bible can provide valuable clues as to how certain biblical words and phrases became more widely known, though the peasants did not necessarily need to appreciate all of a court scribe's reasoning in coining their formative surnames.

To illustrate the relevance of early versions of the bible, the reference to men as 'plants' in God's vineyard appears straightforwardly in the king James version (1611) of Isaiah 5:7. However, the word 'plant' appears in neither the Vulgate nor Wycliffe's translation of this verse, for which different vegetal wording is used:

[Wycliffe: Isaiah 5:7]
Forsooth the vinery of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah be the delightable burgeoning of him. I abode, that it shall make doom, and lo! wickedness; and that it should do rightfulness, and lo! cry.

[King James version, 1611]
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

In this example, other words relating to the vegetal are used by Wycliffe though the word 'plant' is later used in 1611 as an acceptable substitute. Wycliffe uses the word 'burgeoning' instead, for which the Oxford English Dictionary [OED] gives the obsolete meaning: a bud, a growing shoot, a branch; also offspring. Though not identical, this is roughly similar in the OED to an obsolete meaning for plant: [OED sb 1b] a thing planted or springing up; a young person; a novice. Hence, the Wycliffe and the later King James version maintain much the same meaning with different words.

As another example, the vegetal representation of human descent from the biblical 'tree of Jesse' seems to have had a longstanding and widespread basis. For Old Testament times, there is an archaeological Canaanite carving of a female with a tree carved on her belly. According to a twelfth-century account, more contemporary with the formation of surnames, there was a tree in a dream by William the Bastard's mother, Harleve, on the night of his conception. The historian William of Malmesbury (ca.1095-1143) wrote that this tree springing forth from her body overshadowed Normandy and England and this foretold the outcome of the Battle of Hastings [1066] at which William the Bastard became 'the Conqueror' and the first Norman king of England.

The vegetal tradition for the 'tree of Jesse' is maintained in both the Wycliffe and the king James versions of the Bible. In the Wycliffe version (1382) it is worded as a flower ascending out of a root. This might be compared with God's 'mighty root' in the 'pseudo'-Dionysius as well as with an aspect of the Pearl-poet's writings. Roots are also mentioned in the later King James version (1611) though this time with a branch from its stem – again. a similar though not identical vegetal meaning as that in Wycliffe. The Vulgate bible gives a straightforward Latin equivalent of the Wycliffe version, with a flower [flos] from the root [de radice], although 'virga' [rod] can mean more variously: rod, twig, scion, or branch of a pedigree:

[Vulgate: Isaiah 11:1]
et egredietur virga de radice lesse et flos de radice eius ascendet

And a rod shall go out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall ascend of the root of it.

[King James]
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots:

The above text [Isaiah 11:1] foretells the coming of the Messiah from the line of Jesse who was the father of David. For the Plant homeland Pearl-poet, this can be compared to line 1079 of 'Cleanness' for which the precise wording is:

And there watz rose reflayr where rotz hatz ben euer [ever]

For this description of Christ's birth, as mentioned above, the interpretation 'rose scent' has been adopted by both Finch and Garrison. However, there is another interpretation:

And there was a reflowering [reflayr] that rose from God's eternal roots [rotz].

In the contemporary exegesis, there was often both a literal and spiritual meaning though with both 'made literal' for a sacred text, as Christ's birth surely is. Hence, we have not just a sense of 'rose scent' but also that a 'reflowering arose', with the latter closely similar to the contemporary wording of Isaiah 11:1, 'a flower shall ascend of the root of [Jesse]'.

Pursuing sense for the word 'plant' further, the Oxford English Dictionary includes another sense [v 2b]: plant people in place. This archaic usage dates back to an early Old English Royal Psalter [Canticles iv 17]

[2b(i) Latin]
Inducens plantas eos in montem hereditatis tue in preparato habitaculo tuo quod preparasti

[2b(i) Old English]
ingelædende ðu plantast hy on munt yrfeweardnesse þinre on gegearwodre eardungstowe þinre þa ðu gegearwodest.

Here, the Latin text uses plantas meaning 'you plant' giving, 'Leading thou plant them high in the hills ...'. The grammar is slightly diferent in the second example of usage listed in the OED [v 2b(ii)] with plantabo meaning 'I will plant', hence:

[2b(ii) pre-1382 Wycliffite bible, MS Bodl.959, 2 Kings vii 10]
I schal putten a place to my puple israel, & I schal plauntyn [L plantabo] hym & I schal dwelle with hym.

There are several similar examples of this usage explicitly with the word plant in both the Vulgate and Wycliffe versions. Thus:

[Exodus 15:17]
Thou shalt bring them in, and thou shalt plant them in the hill of thine heritage; in the most steadfast dwelling place which thou hast wrought,
[Vulgate: plantabis]

Both the Royal Psalter and this verse from Exodus, refer to planting them in the hill[s]. There are other similar wordings in the bible albeit less specific in describing the location. In Exodus, the Latin form is plantabis [you will plant] while, for the others, it is mostly plantabo [I will plant].

Wycliffe and Vulgate:

[Amos 9:15]
And I shall plant them on their land, and I shall no more draw out them of their land, which I gave to them, saith the Lord thy God.
[Vulgate: plantabo]

[2 Samuel 7:10]
and I shall set a place to my people Israel, and I shall plant him, and I shall dwell with him, and he shall no more be troubled, and the sons of wickedness shall not add to, that they torment him as before,
[Vulgate: plantabo]

[Jeremiah 24:6]
and I shall bring them again into this land; and I shall build them, and I shall not destroy them; and I shall plant them, and I shall not draw (them) up by the root.
[Vulgate: plantabo]

[Jeremiah 32:41]
And I shall be glad on them, when I shall do well to them; and I shall plant them in this land in truth, in all mine heart, and in all my soul.
[Vulgate: plantabo]

[1 Chronicles 17:9]
And I gave a place to my people Israel; it shall be planted [they shall be planted there], and shall dwell therein,
[Vulgate: plantabitur, passive 3rd person future]

The people of Isreal are essentially offspring from the root of Jesse.

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5.7 Offspring and supplantores

More explicitly, there is a biblical mention of sons as new plantings: [note: the Psalm numbering is slightly different in the Vulgate]

[Vulgate, Psalm 143:12 (sic)]
quorum filii sicut novella plantationis in iuventute sua filiae eorum conpositae circumornatae ut similitudo templi

[Wycliffe, Psalm 144:12 (sic)]
Whose sons be as new plantings in their youth. The daughters of them be arrayed; adorned about as the likeness of a temple.

In fact, the OED meaning of 'plant' [OED sb 1b] does not explicitly use the word 'offspring' though it gives the following:

[OED plant sb 1b]
a thing planted or springing up; a young person; a novice.

Adding the usage of 'plant' in the Wycliffe version of Psalm 144, we have that explicitly sons [Latin filii] are described as new 'plantings'. Alongside this, we can also consider the usage of the word 'plonttez' in the Pearl poem [line 104].

For this section of the Pearl poem, Puttner and Stokes [p10] commment that, in the mortal arbour [on the earthly plain] the emphasis falls on sweet scented flowers associated with the cycles of growth and decay that characterises plant, and indeed all, life on earth. [Pearl ll 25-44] ... The running water is given a climactic position in the description of the splendid landscape ... its vigorous motion complements the invigorating effect the place has on the dreamer who is prompted to motion by it. [Pearl ll 101-2] ... a radiance ... elicits a cry of wonder from the dreamer: 'Lord, dere was hit adubbement [ornamentation]!' [Pearl ll 108].

['The Works of the Gawain Poet', edited by Ad PUTTNER and Myra STOKES, Penguin Classics.]

This is the transitional passage [lines 102-8] in which we have an elevation from the 'playn' to the heavens, with God's planted 'vertues' acting as His 'adubbement' [Finch glossary: adornment, splendour] on the plain:

[Pearl ll 103-4]
Þe fyrre in þe fryth, þe feier con ryse
Þe playn, þe plonttez, þe spyse, þe perez

More generally, with the seasonal cycles of plant life and indeed with the temporal nature of all of life, and with the Lord's adornment of planted 'vertues' on the plain [OED plant v 3a], we can consider 'the plonttez' in the fryth alongside such a verbal noun as 'new plantings' which is how the bible describes sons amongst God's planted people. The verbal noun 'plantings' is straightforward enough whereas 'plonttez' is in a simultaneous but more difficult Middle English dialect and is more challenging. Even so, new shoots or offshoots can be associated with offspring or, in a spritual sense, a monastic novice planted with God's virtue, as well as with planted literal vegetation. In a similar way also in line 104, 'the spyse' becomes the heavenly Pearl-maiden in the Pearl poem. As described earlier for this line, 'the plonttez' are set down on 'the playn' and give rise to 'the spyce' who joins her 'perez' made equal in heaven. This then leads on, in the third and fourth sections of the Pearl poem, to the dreamer's vision of his Pearl-maiden in heaven [Puttner and Stokes, p12].

A form of the word 'plant' appears again on line 440 of the poem. This is shortly after some vegetal lines [Pearl ll 425-6, 430-2] which I will discuss in some detail in the next subsection. The specific form of the relevant word here is 'supplantores'.

[Pearl 437-42]

[Stanton translation]
Then she [the Pearl-maiden] arose and a moment stayed,
And there and then, with face aglow,
Said, 'All who strive here are repaid,
But from here all usurpers ['supplantores'] go;
Her empire [the Virgin Mary's] doth all heaven know,
And Earth and Hell to her give place [give way];

[Finch p65, translation]
She prayed and lifting high her head,
Deliberately did me [the Dreamer] address:
'For piety the pure are paid.
But no usurpers ['supplantores'] see this place!
The empress [Virgin Mary] pure of paradise
Rules hell and heaven flawlessly,

Fletcher [p47] takes metonymy as his starting point for understanding the Pearl poem: that is, he considers especially the various layers of meaning that are associated with the poem's words and phrases. He calls this metonymy 'radical' in two senses: first, its presence is fundamental to the poem's development; and secondly, the poem ceaselessly displaces and alternates between possible meanings. For the Pearl-maiden's level of existence in heaven [p56] he notes that there is both a narrative and exegetical multiplicity that forms a community of competing but equal senses. The Pearl-maiden now belongs to the Lamb [Jesus] as a member of the community of the 144,000 virgins [these are male virgins in Revelation 14:4] and, also, there is an exegetical fluidity of senses which join each other with no one sense and no one virgin more authoritive than the next. Fletcher notes that there are indeed no 'supplantores' [Pearl l 440] in heaven. This is in keeping with the transition from the 'plonttez' on earth rising to the heavenly equals ['perez', Pearl l 104], as I have already noted. No one virgin can 'supplant' another in this egalitarian community of equals in heaven.

[FLETCHER, Alan J 'Reading Radical Metonymy in Pearl', Chater 3 of 'Sacred and Secular in Medieval and Early Modern Cultures: New Essays', Edited Besserman, Lawrence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)]

The word 'supplant' appears nineteen times in the Latin Vulgate bible [or seventeen excluding Ecclesiasticus] but only five times in the Wycliffe's version which was finalised a little later and which, in any case, was in a different dialect of Middle English from that used by the Plant homeland Pearl poet. Hence here, I first list all seventeen occurrences with a modern English translation of each [ accessed Sep 1 2020] before selecting and discussing a relevant feature of interest in more detail.

Vulgate bible: supplant

[Genesis 27:36 supplantavit; Wycliffe he hath supplanted me]
But he said again: Rightly is his name called Jacob; for he hath supplanted me lo this second time: My birthright he took away before, and now this second time he hath stolen away my blessing. And again he said to his father: Hast thou not reserved me also a blessing?

[Job 8:3 supplantat; Wycliffe whether God supplanteth doom]
Doth God pervert judgment, or doth the Almighty overthrow that which is just?

[Job 12:19 supplantat]
He leadeth away priests without glory, and overthroweth nobles.

[Psalmi 16:13 supplanta]
Arise, O Lord, disappoint him and supplant him; deliver my soul from the wicked one; thy sword

[Psalmi 17:40 supplantasi]
And thou hast girded me with strength unto battle; and hast subdued under me them that rose up against me.

[Psalmi 36:31 supplantbantur]
The law of his God is in his heart, and his steps shall not be supplanted.

[Psalmi 40:10 supplantationem]
For even the man of my peace, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, hath greatly supplanted me.

[Psalmi 139:5 supplantare]
Keep me, O Lord, from the hand of the wicked: and from unjust men deliver me. Who have proposed to supplant my steps:

[Proverbia 4:16 supplantaverunt]
For they sleep not, except they have done evil: and their sleep is taken away unless they have made some to fall.

[Proverbia 11:3 supplantatio]
The simplicity of the just shall guide them: and the deceitfulness of the wicked shall destroy them.

[Proverbia 13:6 supplantat]
Justice keepeth the way of the innocent: but wickedness overthroweth the sinner.

[Proverbia 19:3 supplantat]
The folly of a man supplanteth his steps: and he fretteth in his mind against God.

[Proverbia 22:12 supplantantur]
The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge: and the words of the unjust are overthrown.

[Isaias 29:21 supplantabant]
That made men sin by word, and supplanted him that reproved them in the gate, and declined in vain from the just.

[Jeremias 9:4 supplantans supplantabit]
Let every man take heed of his neighbour, and let him not trust in any brother of his: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every friend will walk deceitfully.

[Osee 6:8 supplantata; Wycliffe Gilead ... is supplanted with blood]
Galaad is a city of workers of idols, supplanted with blood.

[Osee 12:3 supplantavit; Wycliffe he supplanted his brother]
In the womb he supplanted his brother: and by his strength he had success with an angel.

Here the majority of these English translations retain the word 'supplant' though it is changed for example to 'overthrow' in four cases and to 'subdue' in another.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists two fourteenth-century uses of the word 'supplanter' with meanings [1a] an overthrower and [2a] a dispossesser. For the verb 'to supplant' it lists ca.1350 [1a] to dispossess and take the place of another and [2a] to trip or cause to fall. Additionally, for [3a] it cites an early [pre 1382] 'Wycliffite' version of Psalmi 17:40 'þou supplauntidest [L supplantasti] men rising in me vnder me' which it lists as the earliest known evidence in English of the sense 'to cause to fall from a position of power'. Similarly for [3b] it cites an early [pre 1382] 'Wycliffite' version of Job 8:3 'Whether God supplauntith dom [L supplantat judicium]' as the first English evidence of the sense 'to ruin or foil'.

The first Vulgate example above [Genesis 27:36] relates to the younger brother of Esau called Jacob who supplanted Esau's birthright; the word 'brother' appears in two further examples including 'Osee 12:3' which states that Jacob supplanted his brother in the womb. For both of these, the word 'supplant' is retained in Wycliffe.

In the Pearl poem, lines 689-94 allude to the story of Jacob's ladder, when Jacob, fleeing from his elder twin Esau, dreamt of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels going up and down, and he heard God promise that 'the land wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed' [Genesis 28:6-15]. This promise ratified the inheritance that Jacob tricked out of Esau. [Turville-Petre p392] God then renames Jacob as Israel [Genesis 35:10].

TURVILLE-PETRE, Thorlac. 'Old Testament Citations in Pearl', The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol 118, no 3, 2019, pp. 390-405. JSTOR, Accessed 1 Sept 2020]

Jacob appears again in the Pearl poem in lines 1040-41 which refer to his children whose names are those of Israel's twelve tribes inscribed on two stones [Exodus 28:10] in the order of their birth [Putter and Stokes, Notes]. David became the king of all Israel [Psalmi 143] and prayed 'that our sons be as new plantings'.

Jacob 'supplanted' his brother with his own 'planted' sons
Jacob's dream of the ladder, Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-77
Jacobs Ladder by Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-77
Stairway to Heaven, 1971, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant:
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings ... And my spirit is crying for leaving.

In short, the Plant homeland Pearl poet was familiar with the story of Jacob whose twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel; they 'supplanted' Jacob's brother [cf. suplantores, Pearl line 440] and became likened as new 'plantings'.

This sense 'plantings' appears in St Jerome's Vulgate bible, which was commissioned by the pope in 382AD to eradicate false translations – the resulting Latin Vulgate was current well into and through the times of surname formation, with early evidence for the Plant name first appearing in medieval Latin documents of administration. The translation from Greek to the Latin word plantationes is described by the so-called Father of the Church, St Agustine of Hippo, who wrote about this sense 'plantings' in Book II of On Christian Doctrine II.12(18), dated 397AD, as follows:

For we must learn not to interpret but to correct texts of this sort. For the same reason it is, because the Greek word "moschos" means calf, some have not understood that "moscheumata" are to be plantings and seedlings [Latin: esse plantationes et vitulamina] and have translated the word as "calves"; and the error has crept into so many texts that you can hardly find it written any other way. And yet the meaning is very clear, for it is made evident by the words that follow. "The plantings of adulterers will not give deep roots [Latin: Adulterinae plantationes non debunt radices]".

With the Pearl-poet's familiarity with the 'plantings' of Jacob, the surname Plant in its main homeland can be associated with a meaning 'sons', or more widely 'offspring' or 'child', at a time earlier than the first English surviving evidence in the OED for an obsolete sense to the word plant: young person or novice. In particular in a monastic setting, the Plants may be regarded as God's spiritual children, in a marriage to God of the Church, as offshoots or brethren of the abbey.

cf. [Augustine ibid, Book I arg] 'The Word was made Flesh', our Lord suffered, and died, and rose again, and ascended to heaven, taking Himself as his bride the Church.


5.8 Pearl in the homeland context

The Pearl-poet is widely considered to be he who also wrote the Gawain poem, which has been identified with particular geographic features within the small dialect region of SE Cheshire and over its border into NE Staffordshire [Ralph Elliott; also J R R Tolkein and E V Gordon, 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight', 2nd Edition, pp xiii-xiv]

Given the frequent biblical references by the Pearl-poet, this brings into consideration Dieulacres abbey with its core lands in this NE-Staffordshire region and over its border into SE Cheshire, as I shall describe further in subsection 5.10 below. This abbey was founded, according to the founding story, on the site of the former chapel of St Mary the Virgin. The name Dieulacres is said to derive from 'Dieu l'encres' meaning God 'increase it', or perhaps even 'increase Him' meaning Christ as the source of Christianity. The foundation site of Dieulacres, at a chapel to St Mary the Virgin, tallies with the infant Jesus as He appears in an abbey seal, which shows the Virgin Mary and Child in keeping with a sense of increasing Him and His Word.

A Dieulacres seal on a document of John Plant of Stonycliffe.
[Further details
Virgin with Christ on knee

Growth or increasing is inherent to the name of Dieulacres as I have discussed above (subsection 4.2) in connection with a commentary by Alfred of Sareshel dated closely to the time of this abbey's foundation. It is also relevant to note a biblical reference to increasing:

[Wycliffe: 1 Corinthians 3:6-8]
[3:6] I planted, Apollos moisted, but God gave increasing.
[Vulgate: plantavi = I planted]
[3:7] Therefore neither he that planteth is any thing, neither he that moisteth, but God that giveth increasing.
[Vulgate: plantat = he plants]
[3:8] And he that planteth, and he that moisteth, be one; and each shall take his own meed, after his travail.
[Vulgate: plantat = he plants]

In this Wycliffe passage from the bible, there is 'he planteth' which is explicitly differentiated from God's increasing. That said, human virtue and God's creation of the world along with God's increasing, associated by the late medieval scholastics with the vegetative soul, can be related to the creative Word of God in contemporary beliefs.

As well as for the foundation site of Dieulacres, the Virgin Mary appears in the local poem Pearl, following on from the Pearl-maiden's description of her marriage to God:

[Finch p63 gloss of Pearl ll 411-415]
Now know that when your pearl fled,
I was too young of tender age.
The Lord, our Lamb, through His Godhead,
Took me in merciful marriage
And crowned me queen. In bliss we wed.

To which, the Dreamer responds:

[Finch pp 63-65 gloss of Pearl ll 421-427]
'O bliss!' I cried, 'Can this be true?
Please ease your anger if I err.
Are you the bride of heaven blue
Whom people praise without a peer?
From Mary, we believe, grace grew
When but a virgin flower, she bore
Our Lord. Who wears her crown? In lieu

In fact, the untranslated lines in Middle English of the aforesaid passage relating to Mary's grace are:

[Pearl ll 425-426]
We leuen [leaven] on Marye that grace of grewe,
That ber a barne [child] of virgyn flour.

As the poem says, Mary bore a child from the [vegetal] 'virgyn flour'. This does not exclude another interpretation of 'flour' as a biblical 'flower' rising from God's eternal root, as I have already discussed above for Christ's birth in 'Cleanness'. Here however, we can note in particular that the leavening of bread requires heat for its 'increase' which, according to Corinthians, is given by God. For the vegetal in the Plant homeland, we can recall the power of growth in Alfred of Sareschel's commentary on 'De Plantis' (subsection 4.2 above) which seems relevant not only to the naming of Dieulacres but also more widely, since it relates to the diocese of Lichfield.

The Latin word 'crementum' was chosen by the Staffordshire translator and commentator of De Plantis for growth in plants, as opposed to 'augmentum' for minerals; this relates to the Latin word 'cremo' meaning 'I burn'. In his commentary for example, Alfred explains greenness as requiring moderate heat and heat is also required for the purposes of the aforesaid passage in Pearl: the leavening of bread. The importance of this implicit reference to heat, and hence to the basic contemporary element 'fire', then becomes clear in that it explains the Pearl poet's lines almost immediately following the purity of Mary's vegetal Vigin birth. These lines suddenly jump, as it seems to a modern mind, to the Arabic (erstwhile Greek) death of the Phoenix which then rises from the fire in rebirth:

[Pearl ll 430-432]
We calle hyr Fenyx of Arraby,
Þat fereles fleȝe of hyr Fasor–
Lyk to þe quen of cortaysye.

[Finch p65]
In faith, the Phoenix of Araby
She's called, who flew from her Creator,
For she's the queen of courtesy.

Thus, at first sight, there appears to be an arbitrary complexity around Christ's birth in the Pearl poem but its purpose becomes clear with reference to Alfred's vegetal 'crementum'.

Some have criticised the aristocratic emphasis in the poem as a watered-down form of theology that neglects for example the aristocracy's duty of integration into a broader society; claiming that they instead consider themselves as religiously privileged. However, Garrison argues that, 'On the contary, as the works of the Pearl-poet show, the aristocracy's inward-looking religious practices enable complex theological thinking about the nature of the individual soul's relationship with the divine, as appropriate to the Christian mass. [Garrison p38]

Garrison adds that, around these thirteenth to fourteenth century times, there was a move towards the privileged taking part in a more personal mass and private prayer, arising alongside their generosity for private chapels, portable altars, and chantries. She relates this to the emphasis of the Pearl-poet on the importance of an inner personal grace. [Garrison pp 55-56]

Finch also picks up on this emphasis in the poem Pearl, 'All of heaven is rhetorically transported to earth; indeed, it seems to walk about, embodied, wearing jewellery and trinkets. Heaven is a kind of Christian noble.' [Finch p33] However, he adds, 'Yet the very language in the poem that functions to underscore the proximity of the physical and metaphysical, indicates the unbridgeable difference between the two realms.' [Finch pp 34-35]

The following passage indicates a paradoxical equality in heaven 'without the subordination that characterises earthly power structures':

[Pearl ll 445-8]
The court of þe kyngdom of God alyue
Hatz a property in hytself beyng:
Alle þat may þerinne aryue
Of alle þe reme is quen oþer king,

[Finch pp 64-5]
This court within our Lord's great land [þe kyngdom of God]
Accords with His arrangings.
For all the souls that herein stand
Are of their realm great queens or kings.

His departed Pearl-maiden is then described as the 'queen' of courtesy:

[Pearl ll 453-56]
Bot my lady of quom Jesu con spryng,
Ho haldez þe empyre ouer vus ful herȝe
And þ dysplesez no of oure gyng,
For ho is quene of cortaysye.

[Finch pp 64-5]
But she from whom Christ's good grace springs
Reigns over all in royalty.
No envy, though, by this she brings;
For she is the queen of courtesy.

In the poem itself, the Dreamer complains about the problem of conflating heaven with an earthly aristocracy: [Finch, Pearl ll 590-92] 'Your story seems unreasonable! God's righteousness rules all mankind Or Holy Writ is foolish fable!' At least for some however, it is the Pearl poet's interplay between the kingdom of heaven and earthly existence that is the poem's greatest appeal. By the poem's end, the duality of the dreamer's vision of his Pearl-maiden as once earthly but now heavenly somehow remains incomplete. [Finch pp 36-37]

Unbridgeable stream between the Dreamer and his Pearl-maiden
[from original manuscript]

Stream separating the Dreamer from his

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5.9 The Green Knight

As I have already noted above, the poet's 'Gawain' poem in particular has been associated with Dieulacres abbey, especially around the border of its core lands in NE Staffordshire with Cheshire to the north. [Ralph Elliott, several publications, starting 1954] However, there does not appear to be an immediately clear connection between this poem's knights and individual local aristocrats around Dieulacres. Even so, possible inspirational figures for the knights have become a matter of discussion.

If we are to consider the viewpoint of a Dieulacres aristocracy, amongst its monks and novices and lay brethren and supported pensioners, we might note that the two main knights in the poem could just have been allegorical representations of this abbey's particular circumstance: Sir Gawain could parallel the royal protection of the abbey, while the Green Knight could parallel the wild Nature being tamed in its lands around Leekfrith.

Royal authority at Camelot and the Green Knight
[from original manuscript]

Illustration from the original manuscript

Some known aspects of Dieulacres, which can be expected to have been known in the Gawain-poet's living memory, are as follows. There were grants of royal protection to the abbey through the 1340s and 1350s. In 1351 the Black Prince, as the abbey's patron, visited Dieulacres and gave 500 marks towards a rebuilding, which had been initiated by his father Edward III, of Leek church which the bishop had appropriated to the abbey in 1223. In 1351, the Black Prince ordered the protection of the abbey by the justiciar of Cheshire; this was specifically from all annoyances including its impoverishment by frequent visits of people from the country, with grooms and horses and greyhounds. In connection with hunting, the abbot had been claiming hunting rights in 1293 that covered a wide area reaching north from the abbey by Leek town to the county boundary; and, at the abbey's dissolution in 1537-38, its servants included a forester of Leek forest suggesting forest management that not least could have been for hunting. Corrodians (kept aristocratic pensioners) were imposed on the abbey in the fourteenth century by both Edward III and his young grandson Richard II; the Black Prince having predeceased his father. [British History Online: Dieulacres abbey. Accessed 23 July 2020.]

Much has been written about the Gawain poem 'SGGK', not least as a masterpiece of medieval poetry. The following extracts are just my personal selection some academic papers that can embellish our interest, especially in connection with the main Plant homeland.

Cooke and Boulton have proposed that the patron of the poem was Henry of Grosmont (1310-61) who was the first duke of Lancaster and who was a close companion of king Edward III. Henry's largest group of lands was the old Ferrers holdings in Staffordshire and Derbyshire and, by 1348, he had also acquired extensive holdings in Cheshire. [Cooke and Boulton, p46] They also note that there was a real-life 'Green Count', Amadeus VI of Savoy who had strong connections to the English court and whose niece married king Edward III's third son, Lionel duke of Clarence in 1368. They also note some apparent links between three with the same surname: a real-life 'Green Squire' called Simon Newton who had a kinsman in the household of the aforesaid Henry duke of Lancaster; a Richard Newton whose career was at the court of Richard II who succeeded Edward III as king in 1377; and later, around 1500, a Humphrey Newton who had links to east Cheshire and was familiar with this Gawain-poem SGGK. [Cooke and Boulton p43]

[COOKE, W G, and D'A J D BOULTON. 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A poem for Henry Grosmont?' Medium Ævum, vol 68, no 1, 1999, pp 42-54. JSTOR, Accessed 17 July 2020.]

Carruthers has developed some similar reasoning and proposed that the poem could have been commissioned by the fourth earl of March, Roger Mortimer (d 1398), with Sir Gawain being an allusion to the earl's worthiness to be granted his deceased grandfather's title, Duke of Clarence, as well as his coveting membership of the elite and recently-formed Order of the Garter. This places rather less emphasis on proximity to the poem's apparent locality, aside from a supposition of travel through it alongside the king; it concerns a Marcher aristocracy that was near Wales but, for the most part, more distant than the Lancaster duke's major holdings of land. [Carruthers pp 75-77]

[CARRUTHERS, Leo. 'The Duke of Clarence and the Earls of March: Garter Knights and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.' Medium Ævum, vol 70, no 1, 2001, pp 66-79. JSTOR, Accessed 16 July 2020.]

With more precise local associations with Dieulacres, there were two other founder members of the Order of the Garter: Edward, the Black Prince (1330-76) and Sir James de Audley (d 1369). The Black Price earned distinction as one of the most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years' War with France, being regarded by his English contemporaries as a model of chivalry and one of the greatest knights of his age. Line 2023 of SGGK describes Sir Gawain as the finest knight in Europe, as he dressed at Bertilak's castle for his final encounter. The Black Prince distinguished himself at the battle of Poitiers and was both the Prince of Wales and earl of Chester. Sir Gawain had travelled through north Wales via the vicinity of Chester to Sir Bertilak's castle which has been placed at the southern borders of east Cheshire. Sir James d'Audley had accompanied the Black Prince at the battle of Poitiers and, though he was the eldest son of Sir James Audley of Stratton Audley in Oxfordshire, the Audley family lands included Gratton manor adjoining the putative location of Bertilak's castle at Swythamley and the final encounter at the Green Chapel.

The Black Prince and James de Audley KG
The Black Prince (1330-76)  :Sir James Audley (1318-69)
Bruges Garter Book, 1430/40, BL Stowe 594

Greg Walker notes that, if Michael Bennett is correct that the Gawain-poet [aka, the Pearl-poet] is best placed in the circle of Cheshire men drawn to Westminster and London in the entourage of the Black Prince's son Richard II, then the poet's discussion of courtliness and chivalry would have had an immediacy and power which his initial audiences, within its [difficult] NW dialect area, would have fully recognised. [Walker p125]

[WALKER, Greg. 'The Green Knight's Challenge: Heroism and Courtliness in Fitt I of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.' The Chaucer Review, vol 32, no 2, 1997, pp 111-128. JSTOR, Accessed 16 July 2020.]

Lawrence Besserman has noted that the significance of the Green Knight has been variously identified as: a dying and rising vegetation god; an archetypal Death figure; the Devil in disguise; or an allegorical representation of the Word of God or Christ. [Besserman p220] He notes that C S Lewis pointed to the Green Kinght's mix of opposing characteristics. For Basserman, a mix of opposing qualities are constantly in play while the Green Knight is not fully both nor, except for a moment, solely either of the pairs: ferosity and restraint; courtesy and rudeness; mastery and subservience; courtly artifice and natural wilderness. [Besserman pp 227-8]

[BESSERMAN, Lawrence. 'The Idea of the Green Knight.' ELH, vol 53, no 2, 1986, pp 219-239. JSTOR, Accessed 16 July 2020.]

Gerald Morgan notes that, in the climax at the Green Chapel, Gawain and the Green Knight stand as penitent and confessor. The knowledge that the Green Knight possesses stands in contrast to Gawain's ignorance including Gawain's lack of moral awareness despite his being praised for his [near] perfection. Gawain's excellence is constrained by his human, not angelic, condition. He judges himself more severely than in the more benign judgement of the Green Knight. The third judgement occurs on Gawain's safe return to Camelot where he is judged as the noblest of knights. [Morgan p788]

[MORGAN, Gerald. 'The Significance of the Pentangle Symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.' The Modern Language Review, vol 74, no 4, 1979, pp 769-790. JSTOR, Accessed 16 July 2020.]

Ann Martinez notes Sir Gawain's fine qualities inside Camelot's finery and stresses the contrast between this location and Gawain's ill-ease within the nature on his trek to Hautdesert where he enters the woods of Lord Bertilak, who later turns out to be the Green Knight. Upon entering the woods, the hoary winter magically turns into a verdant spring [Martinez p117]. The woods are distinguished from the surrounding king's forest [if we are to recall a more detailed geographical context, there is both the abbey's Leek forest and the royal heir's Macclesfield forest just over the county border]. At its edge, the vegetation is typically that grown in hedgerows standing as a protection of the Green Knight's parkland castle within Hautdesert [which means high wilderness] from the overgrown wilderness of the forest. [Martinez p118]

[MARTINEZ, Ann M. 'Bertilak's Green Vision: Land Stewardship in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.' Arthuriana, vol 26, no 4, 2016, pp 114-129. JSTOR, Accessed 16 July 2020.]

Upon entering [the castle grounds in] Hautdesert, Gawain is stuck by numerous large trees growing on green grass on a medieval estate that shows signs of being meticulously designed. This showcases Bertilak's attention to greenery and his interest in the outdoors. Bertilak is described [Gawain-poem line 1178] as, 'þis lorde by lynde-wodez' [this lord by the linden woods]. [Martinez p119]

The linden trees take centre stage, with their association with shade [as I discuss above for the Plante name in Normandy with its two separate occurrences near places called le Feuillie]. This also indicates a significant amount of reforestation. The linden is noted for both its aesthetic appeal and its vigorous regrowth of both undergrowth and timber and also for its reputed longevity. [Martinez p119]

Bertilak's role of managing wildlife is also evident. The purpose of the first hunt is for the selective animal control of the deer herd. In the second and third, it is for the mitigation of hazardous animals, specifically boar hazardous to man (second hunt) and foxes harmful to deer, crops, and domestic animals (third). This last hunt lacks the prestige of the first two but makes up for it in practicality. [Martinez pp 120-2]

Cooke and Boulton outline the evidence for the location of this poem. In 1940, Mabel Day proposed Wetton mill as a location inspiring the Green chapel; this is 8 miles east of Leek. From around 1958, Ralph Elliott proposed that the actual terrain that is described through much of the poem was that of Dieulacres abbey. While both have merits, Elliott's had the advantage of locating not only the site of the Green chapel, which he identified as a crevice called Ludschurch, but also identifying an additional nearby place for Bertilak's castle, which he located on Knight's Low in the grounds of Swythamley park – the earls of Chester had once had a hunting lodge here; in the fourteenth century, it was a grange of Dieulacres abbey. [Cooke and Boulton pp 43-44]

The relevant geography of this region, in relation to the Plant surname, is shown in green on the map below.

L = Lud's Church:
Green chapel in Gawain poem.
S+R = Swythamley and Roche Grange:
Hautdesert in Gawain poem;
Edward Plont, 2 messuages 1406-45, one at R of old, one built between S and R, leased with wood from abbot.
V = Midgley Vaccary:
Thomas Plont ca.1362-82; trespass and royal pardon.
  Plants in the Frith
H = Horton and Gratton manor: Audley lands 1218-1535.
D = Dieulacres abbey: at bottom of frith 1219-1538.
1 to 5: Plant familes at largely unknown locations in Leekfrith 1532-33 (plonttez appears in the frith in the Pearl poem).
6 to 10: other Plant families in Leek parish 1532-33.
W = William Plant owned half of Heaton manor 1614-29.

Hautdesert castle of the Green Knight, aside from its magical association with king Arthur's mother Morgan le Fay, is clearly a 'planted place' as stressed in particular by Martinez. In the poem, the Green Knight's castle is set on a Prayere, perhaps meaning a meadow but also a prayer [Martinez p127]. It has been associated with the top of Leekfrith where surviving records are fragmentary and sparse. Even so, for our purposes, we can note that there are contemporary locations of the Plant surname here: marked V and S and R in the above map. It should be added however that the poet nowhere mentions the word 'plant' in the Gawain-poem, though more widely this word is used in three of the poems ascribed to him: Pearl (plonttez); Cleanness (plantted); and Patience (planted).

The colour green perhaps suggests most obviously vegetation, as does the name Plant, though this does not relate obviously to the Green Knight. Derek Brewer gives some detailed consideration of medieval sources for the colour green and considers them in connection with this knight with his green visage, his green horse and his green axe; he notes that there were many contradictory and fluid associations of the colour green in medieval times, even after dismissing more recent connections such as to magic or fairies. For example, at the start of the poem, the Green Knight carries a holly branch which tallies with his aggressive entry into king Arthur's court at Camelot with a manly nature that distinguishes him from more feminine assocciations of green; also, the holly's greenness in winter can be taken to suggest the knight's trait of survival after his Christmas beheading by Gawain. [Brewer p187] At the end of the poem, this 'knyȝt in the enker grene' went wheresoever he would [SGGK ll 2476-7] suggesting that his greenness allowed him to mege into some natural world, rather than implying the supernatural. [Brewer p190] As for any special symbolism in the poet's mind for the knight's green in general however, Brewer simply concludes, who knows? I might add that that there is a similar sentiment about the name Plant, outside of its initial context for which there are particular usages of the word plant.

[BREWER, Derek, The Colour Green, pp 181-190 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

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5.10 Planted places

The Pearl-poet uses the word 'planted' twice with Finch glossing its meaning as 'established' [Finch p444].

In the poem Patience, Jonah is aware of God's planted land but did not realise that God held command also on the sea:

[Patience ll 111-12]
He wende wel þat þat Wyȝ þat al þe world planted
Hade no maȝt in þat mere no man for to greue.

[Finch p189]
He believed that the Lord, who all land had ordained, [plantted]
Had no strength on that sea to bring suffering, woe!

Though this helps little with identifying some specific 'planted place' as a typical basis for a surname, since God had planted 'all the world', it is consistent with God's involvement in 'plonttez' [Pearl line 104] which I have related to the sense used by king Alfred in the ninth century: God's 'planted craft'. The involvement of God also holds true for the use of the word 'planted' in Cleanness. As well as Finch's suggested senses of 'ordained' or 'established', the senses 'formed' or 'created' are suggested by Puttner and Stokes fitting better medieval times with their major emphases on biblical context. [Puttner and Stokes, Glossary]

As an aside, it needs noting that the Pearl-poet used several words and phrases for God; for example several synonyms for 'man, knight, being' are used also for God: burne, freke, gome, haþel, lede, renk, schalk, sege, tilk and wyȝe [Burrow and Turville-Petre p159]. In the above passage it is: 'þat Wyȝ þat al þe world planted'. Lawrence Clopper [p3] notes that, in this poem [Patience], Jonah refers to God as 'Wyȝe' or 'Renk' and so also does the narrator in Cleanness.

[CLOPPER, Lawrence M. 'The God of the Gawain-Poet.' Modern Philology, vol 94, no 1, 1996, pp 1-18. JSTOR, Accessed 9 Aug 2020]

In the following passage from Cleanness, the poet uses the word 'Dryȝtyn' for God. Clopper [p5] notes that, in Cleanness, the poet merges the name Dryȝtyn – an English equivalent for the God of the Genesis narratives in the bible – with the narrator's other names for God in order to emphasise his fatherhood, sovereignty, and righteousness.

The mention of 'planted' in Cleanness is:

[Cleanness ll 1006-7]
Þat euer hade ben an erde of erþe þe swettest,
As aparaunt to paradis, þat plantted þe Dryȝtyn;

[Finch p147]
It had been earth's most beauteous spot,
As a province of paradise planted by God.

This refers to back to the biblical verse 'Genesis 2:8' which later includes mention of the Garden of Eden though, at the time, there is only an ambiguous mention of God's planting of a paradise of delight [Latin: plantaverat paradisum voluptatis] with implications that I outline above in subsection 1.5 of the Introduction. In particular, the word plant at that time is not tied inevitably to planting vegetable crops or gardens:

[Wycliffe: Genesis 2:8]
Forsooth the Lord God planted at the beginning paradise of liking, wherein he set man whom he had formed.
[Vulgate: plantaverat = he had planted]

For both of the Pearl-poet's uses of 'planted' there is a connection to God and so we might well also consider this for 'plonttez' by recalling the ninth-century Old English sense of planted 'virtue', though this sense of 'the planted craft of God' was evidently being extended early to other meanings of 'craft', such as God's planting of a paradise of pleasure, as well as to 'virtue' spelled 'vertue'. However, there are other usages of the word 'plant' in the bible and, for example, later in Genesis [21:33] Abraham planted a wood which served as a place of prayer:

[Wycliffe, Genesis 21:33]
Soothly Abraham planted a wood in Beersheba, and inwardly called there (on) the name of [the] everlasting God;
[Vulgate: plantavit = he planted]

This archaic sense of a man 'planting a place of religion' is also listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as another early Old English usage besides 'God's planted craft', both of these usages by king Alfred surviving since the ninth century:

[plant v 2a] to found or establish (a community especially a colony or church):

(i) eOE King Alfred's translation of Pope Gregory's 'Pastoral Care' (Hatton) (1871) xl 293
He underfeng ða halgan gesomnunga to plantianne & to ymbhweorfanne, sua se ceorl deð his ortgeard.

(ii) c1450 J Capgrave 'Life of St Augustine' 42.
Augustin with grete auctortie distroyed heresie and planted new religion.

(iii) a1500 Rule Minoresses in W W Seton, Two 15th Century Franciscan Rules (1914) 81 (MED)
We ordeynid & establissin þat þis kept perpetuali in þe same mynster & in other minsteris whoche schal be fownded here after or plantid.

The first listed usage reads, when it is tranlated from old to modern English:

[translated v 2a(i)] he undertook to plant and to tend the holy assembly, as the labourer does his orchard.

Hence, there is reference in this to planting the 'holy assembly' which is likened to the planting of an orchard and, as such, has parallels with Abraham planting a wood as a place of prayer. This usage is explained in more detail in the Latin original of 'De Regulae Pastoralis', which was written at the start of Gregory's papacy (3 Sep 590) and which translates as: [Schaff p520]

'For hence it is that it is said to Jeremiah when sent to preach, See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to scatter, and to build, and to plant, Jer i 10, Because, unless he first destroyed wrong things, he could not profitably build right things; unless he plucked out of the hearts of his hearers the thorns of vain love, he would certainly plant to no purpose the words of holy preaching.'

[SCHAFF, Phillip. 'The Book of Pastoral Rule', Regulae_Pastoralis_Liber SS_Gregorius_I_Magnus, NPNF212, Chap XXXIV, Admon 35,, downloaded 12 July 2020]

Here the preached Word of God as a religion might be considered in the language of the medieval scholastics, as nurture for God's directly planted intellective soul. The above referenced biblical passage in Gregory's Pastoral Care is:

[Wycliffe, Jeremiah 1:9-11]
[1:9] And the Lord sent his hand, and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, Lo! I have given my words in thy mouth;

[1:10] lo! I have ordained thee today on folks, and on realms, that thou draw up, and destroy, and lose, and scatter, and build, and plant.
[Vulgate: plantes = you plant (present, 2nd person singular, active, subjunctive)]

[1:11] And the word of the Lord was made to me, and said, What seest thou, Jeremy? And I said, I see a rod wakening.

Essentially, this links taming–preaching–building–planting–flourishing in a way that is applicable to a place that is first to be tamed in pursuit of a religious purpose. One such place was the most populous Plant homeland of Dieulacres abbey, in so far as it can be described as a place 'planted' [OED v 2a] for a religious purpose.

Returning to the homeland poem Patience, lines 57 to 523 are a humorous retelling of the biblical story of Jonah, emphasising the problems that arise from his impatience. That just leaves lines 1 to 56 as an introduction, including the virtuous Beatitudes [Patience ll 13-28] and a short uninformative conclusion [ll 524-31]. Many have puzzled over this seemingly odd choice. However, Elizabeth Wolfe links it to a monastic setting drawing on the monastic Rule of Benedict and its interpretaion by the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux. For example, Wolfe [p496] notes from Benedict that, Patient persistence is one of the few qualifications for monastic entry as a novice, and patience with the sick is a sign of virtuous zeal. Also [p497] Bernard lists patience among the eight virtues that defend the soul and among the treasures of the brethren, and he argues that patience is the chief display of wisdom. For our purposes, we may note that a monastic setting in the Pearl-poet's dialect area then points particularly to Dieulacres abbey.

[WOLFE, Elisabeth G. 'Þa Monastic Obedience in Patience.' Christianity and Literature, vol 62, no 4, 2013, pp 493-510. JSTOR, Accessed 12 Aug 2020.]

As noted above, the core lands of Dieulacres had been established or ordained [Pearl-poet: planted] on the site of the former chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin from where its Cistercian hills rose through Leekfrith with its 'plonttez' interpretable as biblical 'plantings'; these lands reached the poetic heights of Haudesert containing Swythamley and Luds church in the high woodlands of the 'fryth' .

The much later nineteenth-century watercolour below looks down from the Roaches onto the now-cleared Leekfrith with a much expanded Leek town away in the distance which had adjoined Dieulacres abbey with Leek placed under the abbey's authority.

Cattle by Ramshaw Rocks on the Leek-Buxton
Leek: cattle near Ramshaw Rocks on the Road to Flash, ca.1835 (21cm x 30cm) watercolour attributed to Lewis John Wood. Reproduced on this web page by permission of the Trustees of the William Salt Library, Stafford [WSL, Ref: SV V.105a].

This adds extra layers of meaning to a standard French sense for the Plant surname: 'at or from the planted place'. In total there are 96 references to the word 'plant' in the Vulgate bible with a similar number in Wycliffe, albeit that many of the usages are more or less repetitive. These religious assocations of the word 'plant' endow a standard 'planted place' with an added level of sacred sense that is appropriate to a tamed and planted religious locality. As demonstrated, spiritual sense for a 'planted place' can be evinced not just from the religious and chivalrous references of the local Pearl-poet, but also there was a more widespread religious sentiment for the word 'plant' that is evidenced not least in the bible as: God's direct plantings of virtue; of monastic sons as spiritual plantings; of a planted place of prayer such as a monastery.

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6. Modern understanding

As a further attempt to distinguish or connect medieval understanding with more modern developments, the following is just a brief discussion of some relevant aspects.

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6.1 Plant soul

In medieval Latin, the word for soul is 'anima' which for most people suggests animals and animation and can seem immediately at odds with the soul of plants and a vegetative state. This was no doubt especially a problem in the Industrial Age, with its new forms of motive power and large-scale powerful movement. It seems, to me at least, that this problematic contradiction is now perhaps a little more subdued in our newer modern age, with the 'hidden' animation of electrons in the integrated circuits of computers. In these newest modern times, we might be rather less solely impressed by giant steam engines and disregarding invisible activity knowing that busy animation occurs also in IT 'black boxes'. If we allow this to take us further into physics, there is now a weak parallel to medieval metaphysics with its 'lux create' as we now invest in invisible infrared light supplying agitation in sensors through the thermal motions of atomic waves of phonons and magnons; this is not entirely dissimilar to Alfred of Sareshel's views about moderate heat from the element of 'fire' mysteriously producing greenness in 'plants' and their power of growth [crementum].

Michael Marder adds a still earlier perspective [Marder p84] by noting that the Middle Latin word for soul is 'anima' and, for the vegetative soul, the word is 'vegetabilis'. More in keeping with 'anima', the sense of 'vegetabilis' is in 'growing' or 'flourishing' and not just a vegetative state of complete inaction. Related Latin words are vegetare 'to animate or enliven' and vegere 'to be alive or active'. Our sense of a contradiction between 'vegetable' and 'anima' is then subdued by this for the earlier understandings of these words.

[MARDER, MICHAEL, 2011, 'Plant-Soul: The elusive meanings of Vegetative Life', Environmental Philosophy, Vol 8, No 1, pp 83-100]

Marder notes a simple point from Aquinas: 'life in plants is hidden since they lack sense in local motion, by which the animate and inanimate are chiefly discerned'. Marder does not dismiss however the earlier view of Aristotle:

... a change of location is only one of four kinds of movement, the others being a plant's movement by changing its state, growing, and decaying.

... soul is both the first principal and its final cause, which is to say the soul provides a purpose [teleos in Greek]

... all natural bodies are instruments of the soul ... just as with the bodies of animals, so with plants: they exist for the sake of its soul, not for our sake.

... as an instrument or 'organ' [though this does not mean a human organ], soul is that which sets itself to work, accomplishing with more or less excellence, the activities for which it is fit – in this case, the acts of generation, growth and nutrition.

Marder also notes, for the translation of De Plantis:

[to paraphrase] ... the philosopher called the pseudo-Aristotle (probably Nicholas of Damascus) alternates his view. In one, there is the idea that a plant feels sensation in its hunger for norishment [has a sensory soul] and is mindful of it [intellective]. The more Aristotelian view is that the plant soul is solely 'vegetabilis'.

On the matter of intent, Marder notes that this places plants close to the bottom of the teleogical ladder, being incomplete of fuller purpose, though he also mentions for example heliotropic plants straining for the light. For our medieval focus here, it might be added that the translated bible for example mentions lilies fifteen times, not least as a symbol of Jesus Christ. That then places them as Christ at the very top of the Great Chain of Being; also the rose was sometimes symbolic of the Virgin Mary. Returning to Marder however, he adds:

Plotinus is the [neoPlantonic] thinker most atuned to the originary "impurity" of plants which he variously describes as 'a shadow of a soul' or 'a kind of echo of a soul' ...

... the living and ensouled earth itself is responsible for the germination of the seed hidden in it ... the earth is hence closer to the origin of life than the vegetation it nourishes and supports.

For our medieval context on this website, this is not at all the full story however and I add here some supplementary considerations. For example, there is also Plato's distinction between a wild Plant and an upright, well-trained, cultivated one, though this does not deny Marder's point since this is helped beyond the plant's own self-will [outside its own teleos]. Training was associated not only with man's training of a climbing plant up a stick or net but also with the training of a good education for count Plantegenest; both are trained by human will though in learning there is also an aspect of a student's own self-will. For our purposes on this webpage, this is important point in that a fine capacity for training is one of the 'vegetal' characteristics ascribed to count Geffrey Plantegenest the Fair in his laudatory biography by the Angevin monk, John of Marmoutier. Also in this medieval context, human will was always subservient to God's 'planted' craft and its ensuing variants as the Lord's 'planted' virtue and Word.

Marder focusses more on the weakness of plant life as a 'shadow' or 'echo' of a soul, its incompleteness, its own purposelessness and lack of goal. We now see vegetation largely as just another material to be used by mankind. He argues that there is an 'otherness' (alterity) to plants that we find difficult to accept as a part of 'our' soul [in coxtext, God's planted craft].

For our purposes here, we might ease this 'otherness' of plants within us; Marder ends with suggesting a case for an updated ontology of seeing plants in their own right. Though the anaerobic respiration (breathing) of plants was not fully understood in the medieval period, Alfred of Sareshel associated air with plants, and all else on earth, as one of the four Greek elements: fire, earth, water and air. For our medieval considerations, we can add that metaphors like breath of life, flow of water [fountain of life, holy well] were common medieval representations of sacred spirit. The echo of sound and the shadow of light were not only a weak semblance of life but also symbols of our inability to comprehend the workings of God from His higher plane. Grosseteste concerns himself especially with the role of light [the so-called fifth element] and he uses many different words for its various forms. Not least, he details how corpuscular forms of light (quanta) can produce motion in the vegetable soul. This has strong counterparts in both modern physics and a biological understanding of photo-synthesis.

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6.2 Modern metaphor

There is some degree of commonality between modern metaphor and the intended 'figurative' meanings in scared medieval texts. This does not do full justice however to the strength of spirirual meaning in medieval exegesis. Spiritual meanings were regarded as more true than we might now imagine, perhaps a little like an exact calculation using modern relativity is currently regarded as the true method (albeit that in recent decades it is occasionally being gingerly questioned in connection with the new mystery of dark energy). We have pervasive modern metaphors that have widespread understanding though they can sometimes be misleading in detail when considering the medieval context. For example, we no longer distinguish so sharply between God's heavenly creation and Nature's earthly generation, more typically considering them to be almost the same, though we still consider creativity to be a mental skill, not entirely unlike the medieval Roger Bacon's opinion that the intellective soul was directly created by God but not the sensory nor the vegetative.

In modern English, we have the 'creation is birth' metaphor which is found in such modern expressions as 'the birth of blues music' or 'Einstein's theory of relativity first saw the light of day in 1905'. In medieval times there was no common understanding of the 'speed of light' but there were definite beliefs based on the 'light of creation'. Corruption (moral and physical) was the diminution of this creative light (which we can now compare with the physical reality of plant life in Nature).

The proximity of the scholastic philosopher, Robert Grosseteste (ca.1175-1253), to some of the first known evidence for the name Plant (Plante, Plonte or Plente) in England can help in revealing some likely beliefs that might have accompanied the then context of meanings. At that time, recently rediscovered ideas from ancient Greece did not quickly take over from the older certainties in the common beliefs of ordinary laymen. There are accounts of a friendship between Grosseteste and the 'Plantagenet' king Henry III in his minority (1216-23) and, after Grosseteste's pre-eminence at Oxford, he was appointed bishop of Lincoln. Though it might be tempting to see him as a 'Plantagenet favoured theologian', he disputed with both king and pope.

Slightly earlier than Grosseteste, Albert of Sareshel was influential. He dedicated one of his works to Alexander Nequam, who was educated alongside Henry III's uncle king Richard I. Rather like his Lionheart name highlighted man's sensory soul, the Plant name in this context could have been tied more to God's planted soul in 'plants'. At the highest levels of society, there was access to new ideas in the expensive latest writings and such beliefs could have impinged on such a name as Plantagenet. This would have been less the situation for a lesser name though the newly forming surnames were recorded by literate scribes who were likely knowledgeable enough to imbue the name Plant, especially in a religious context, with sense from the long-standing extensive use of the word 'plant' in the bible.

As well as the modern 'creation is birth' metaphor, metaphors of causation include (a) the object comes 'out of' the substance' as in 'I made a statue out of clay' [creative 'birth'] and (b) the substance goes 'into' the object as in 'I made the clay into a statue'. We might view implantation as a causal aspect of generation. With a rather different emphasis in the fourteenth century, there was planting as an instillation of sacred spirit, in Middle English reference to the 'planted Word' along with 'planting vertue' after first 'rooting up thorns of vice'. More analytically, the less orthodox Roger Bacon (ca.1214-92) of Oxford and Paris reasoned that the virtues of the father are in the 'seed' [semen in Latin] and remain during the generation of the progeny. However, the old 'ontological' metaphors of existence and causation, by God's will, was ingrained in a sure widespread psysche without most minds even being aware of it.

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7. Summary and Conclusions

Plante Genest or Plantegenest was a nickname given to Geffrey (1113-51) count of Anjou in a chronicle (1173) which was dedicated to his son, king Henry II of England (reigned 1154-89). This name is usually translated as 'sprig of broom' which, as a young shoot, is hairy. This meaning can be related back to the ninth-century duke Bernard Plantapilosa, whose name means 'hairy shoot', as so also does the name of William Plantapeluda. This last name occurs (ca.1180) in Coutances at much the same time and place as Geffrey's 'broom shoot' epithet and it is, more precisely, coincident with the name of Durand Plante at Coutances (1180) who was under the jurisdiction of a noble, not directly under the authority of Coutances abbey though near.

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7.1 Historical development including Plantagenet

Around these times of early surname formation, the scholastic Phillip the Chancellor in Paris identified the vegetable soul as a base soul. The scholastic Robert Grosseteste (ca.1175-1253) held it to be rather more as unified with the highest aspects of man's soul. His pupil Roger Bacon however made the rather more untypical claim, at that time, that intellect is a substance separated from the soul in essence [Russell p456]. At these times there was a new developing emphasis on Aristotle's rediscovered vegetative soul in humans, which had three major powers: the nutritive (including digestion), the augmentative (growth), and the generative (reproduction). For a 'Plante Genest' sphere of influence in Normandy and Anjou, a preferred view of the vegetal might have held better than elsewhere, at least amongst those loyal to England's Angevin king.

In England, there is a rare appearance in surviving documents of the name Geffrey Plauntegenet in 1266, during the second Barons War. This associates the name with transporting a garderobe (toilet) which seems to be a rather derogatory allusion to his namesake duke Geffrey Plante Genest of Normandy; this is consistent with this time of rebellion. That said, the duty of carriage work as a geneat [carriage man] makes sense in so far as transporting a toilet tallies with the digestive function of the vegetative 'plant' soul.

As well as its digestive function, we can further consider the vegetative soul's generative power. St Aquinas referred to this as its most noble power. However, the term 'planta-geneat' could be taken mischievously to imply a 'philandering horseman'. The word 'planta' can be associated with human reproduction, especially in the eyes of enemies in and near north Wales, and 'geneat' implies a relatively high status peasant with duties involving horses or oxen-drawn carriage; in medieval Latin, geneta meant a foal or small horse and genetes meant light horsemen. Gossip involving the term 'planta-geneat' could have kept alive the Plantagenet name through its centuries of absence from surviving records. There could have been mutterings amongst malcontents in particular that the English royal family were descended from Geffrey Plantegenest, termed 'planta-geneat', with some discontent about perhaps a filthy-horseman style of authority.

By the fourteenth century, there is mention of God's wrath towards the 'filth of the flesh that foles [sic] have used'. This is in the poem Cleanness which is attributed to the Plant-homeland Pearl-poet. It might be taken to refer to the excrement of foals though its warm fertile powers can be associated with plant growth [crementum] and this was likely too valued for growing crops to attract too much castigation. In this poet's poems, 'fole' in the Gawain poem [G 173, 196, 695, 803] means 'horse' whereas 'foles' in his poems Cleanness and Patience [Cl 202, Pa 121] means 'those without moral discernment' and, in particular, 'folyly' [Cl 696] means 'in a morally stupid way or sinfully' [Puttner and Stokes p857]. Hence, the name Plantefolie found in England can be taken to mean one who 'plants' sinfully; it occurs severally in parts of thirteenth-century England apparently lampooning the 'planta-geneat' name through rebellious times.

It seems possible that the Plante surname might perhaps have undergone some strictures of rectitude in Normandy (1180, 1273), to avoid embarrassment to the noble Plante Genest name in the writings of loyal scribes recording the name, though with some derogatory associations elsewhere at times. There are in particular two early locations in Normandy for the Plant name: there is Plante in west Normandy in 1180, and the two forms de la Plaunt and Plaunt in east Normandy in 1273. These two places are widely separated, in west and east Normandy, but both are near a village called la Feuillie: hence 'de la Plaunt', and perhaps also other spellings of 'Plant', could have meant, from la Feuillie or a similar planted place. As the word 'feuillie' means an arbour or a shaded area, we could accordingly interpret the Plant name here as meaning from such a planted place, if the Plants here were not themselves planters of shade. However, with the spelling 'Plantefolie', which became widespread in thirteenth-century England, 'folie' conveys a less complimentary Anglo-Norman meaning apparently becoming a planter of shadiness or sin.

At least in 1180, the name Plante in western Normandy seemingly has to be set alongside some measure of respect for Henry II insofar as this is shown at least in the biography of his father, Gefffrey the Fair, that mentions the vegetal nickname 'Plantegenest'. This was written in Anjou with the nickname repeated in western Normandy. These were the times of a fashion for 'courtly love' for which 'garden arbours' were no doubt desirable. An association of the Plante name with a 'planted place', such as for noble leisure, is indicated by the recorded French name forms in Normandy, 'de la Planta', or 'de Planteiz', or 'de le Plaunt': hence, a straightforward locative name. Though straightforward in Normandy, it seems that this was open to some uncomplimentary senses for a French Angevin aristocracy such as in Wales and, at least at times, also in England such as through the first and second Barons Wars.

Garden of Delight

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7.2 The lesser name Plant

Though the Plante name in Normandy in 1180 was seemingly near a context of courtly fashion surrounding the 'Plante Genest' name, the 'Plant' name was of course ascribed to a much lesser mortal of history. It could not have had a sense as grandiose as the vegetal senses that were associated with 'Geffrey the Fair' in his biography, 'from the mighty root of creation as a well-trained, upright, father of an empire'. In Anjou in 1202, there are two records for Eimeric de la Planta with the name in one abbreviated to de Plant'. Thus, the meaning 'from a planted place' is supported even though, for an English surname, the sense 'gardener' has been more often presumed.

A planter could have meant a procreator begetting children, especially in Wales, rather than a gardener promoting vegetal sustenance more generally as a 'life force'. At least in a region reaching to near the main Plant homeland, the word 'plant' was likely linguistically related to the Welsh verb 'planta' meaning 'to procreate'; and plant means 'children' in that language; or, as it appeared in Cheshire 'a child'. Such an influence of Welsh and Middle English can be linked to the lands of Dieulacres abbey, such as at Saltney near Chester, 5 miles east of Ewloe where Richard Plant was in 1301. At this abbey's lands at Macclesfield, which is 3 miles south-west of Rainow where there was a Ranulph Plant there in 1382. The Plant name is found especially in the abbey's core lands, slightly to the south of SE Cheshire in Leek parish which was the Plant's most populous homeland.

It seems that some other associations of meaning came into play here, involving not only the digestive and generative aspects of the Aristotelian vegetable soul but also its augmentative power. This augmentative power of growth was known as 'crementum' in the Lichfield diocese which included the main Plant homeland, as evidenced from the start of the thirteenth century in Alfred of Sareshel's commentary on 'De Plantis'. This power of growth could help to explain the meaning 'God increase it' of Dieulacres abbey which was named at much the same time as the 'De Plantis' commentary. Also, by the late fourteenth century, when suitable Middle English texts become available, there are some religious references to planted virtue, planted genteelness (albeit in a complaint of its sadly being lacking in gentry lineage), and the planted Word from God. These senses can be traced back in English to as early as the ninth-century translations from Latin by king Alfred. Later, in the mid fifteenth century, the Plantagenet name was evidently rehabilitated as noble enough for a royal surname, perhaps helped by such a religious sense as the planted Word, though by then it might have become more nearly just a lexical string of letters and sounds, for a royalty that could hit such extremes as adulation or contempt.

In the Old English language, the word plant had already attained some elevated meanings through its many occurrences in the Latin bible. For example, in an early Old English Royal Psalter, it told of leading people and planting them in their heritable place in the hills. This has parallels with the initially named 'Poulton' abbey, near Chester, which was refounded as Dieulacres in the Cistercian hills of the main Plant homeland (1214-20), in order 'to escape raids from the Welsh'.

Our latest scientific findings for the most populous Plant homeland are included summarily in a recent article here [JSP+REP (Apr 2020) JoONS 13(10) 11-13]. In these, our DNA findings indicate that there were several Plant families around the Cistercian moorlands of Leekfrith, in NE Staffordshire and reaching over the Cheshire border to the north. It seems that it could have been one of these families that grew exceptionally large. Our computer simulations show that we can expect no more than one out of several Plant families to grow nearly as large as the largest just by chance; also, for that 'main' largest family, an additional factor might somehow have been in play.

In suitable evidence, which becomes available by 1532-33, there are ten separate Plant familes recorded around Dieulacres abbey, five in the frith to its north and five more towards the south in other parts of the large parish of Leek. The Plant name here can perhaps be associated with an adequate vegetal 'life force', enabling survival around these Cistercian moorlands, or it could relate to the 'planting' of several unrelated men here under spiritual guidance to provide sustenance from the lands of the abbey.

The concept of 'lay Brothers' developed in the late eleventh century, not least for the Cistercians. For the context of the main Plant homeland, there were also some noble family links back to the coining of the Plantegenest name at Marmoutier abbey. A particular reinvented history in the twelfth century for this abbey on the river Loire reinforced its spiritual descents with supposed genealogical blood links back to a king Florus, who was named as the grandfather of its supposed founder St Martin. [Farmer pp 167-175]

A sense of some contemporary wording is given by the following biblical extracts: [from the Wycliffe version and are consistent with the Latin Vulgate bible]

Leading, thou shalt plant them high in the hills [eOE Royal Psalter] Thou shalt bring them in, and thou shalt plant them in the hill of his heritage [Exodus 15:7] thou shalt plant vines in the hills of Samaria; men planting shall plant [Jeremiah 31:5] And they sowed fields, and planted vines and made fruit of birth and He blessed them, and they were multiplied greatly [Psalm 107:37-38] I said, I shall water my garden of plantings; and I shall greatly fill the fruit of my child-bearing [Sirach 24:31] God resettled the hungering ... they seeded the fields and planted vineyards and produced the fruit of birth [Marmoutier history] Whose sons be as new plantings in their youth [Psalm 144:12]

The Plant homeland Pearl-poet gives us some further clues suited to this location, as interpreted from Middle English as:

[Pearl ll 103-4]
The further into the frith the fairer can rise, the plain, 'the plonttez', rising spirit, heaven's equals

From the Oxford English Dictionary, the sense 'OED sb 1b' of plant is something set down and springing up, giving a sense here for 'the plonttez' as God's planted craft and, by his 'vertue', growing shoots.

This Pearl-poet is associated with layers of meaning or 'exegesis' whereby: plonttez can mean 'planted vertue' or 'vegetation' or 'temporal life'; planted means 'established' or 'ordained' or 'created'; and, supplantores means substituters of 'status' or 'lineage' or 'offspring'.

In particular, the Pearl poet was familiar with the story of Jacob who in biblical wording 'supplanted' his elder brother with his own sons as 'new plantings'.

The site of Dieulacres abbey lies at the foot of the frith. At its head, there are distinctive high rocks called the Roaches, with 'roche' in French meaning a rock. The name Dieulacres is also from French and means 'God increase it', mirroring 'increasing' in both the vegetative soul and the bible:

1 Corrinthians 6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave increasing.

In the main homeland:

At the top of Leekfrith, Luds Church was an enchanted place
and has been identified with the Green Chapel
of the Green Knight.

Tolkein Book Cover - Green KnightLuds Church

At the foot of Leekfrith, Dieulacres Abbey had been planted
seeking increase from God with the 'crementum' [growth] of plants.

Leek Church Window

In biblical words, the Lord planted Plants in the frith,
to build and to plant. And with the seeds of their labours,
they made fruit of birth. And with sons as new plantings
and daughters as likeness of a temple, they burgeoned.

Like many surnames, the Plant surname appears first in Latin scripts. In the context of both the 'Roaches' and 'Dieulacres', it seems possible that a French sense was in the mind of the Latin clerics who ascribed the Plant(e) name here, perhaps with a typical French meaning 'from the planted place' or with biblical exegesis 'planted children'. The abbey location seemingly adds layers of religious meaning, such as 'children of the abbey' who were themselves planted in Dieulacres lands, to plant the life force of vegetal 'vertue'.

The Abbey's founder in 1214 had been a powerful viscount in western Normandy, near the 1180 occurence of the Plante name there at Coutances. This provides some credibility to the prosaic French meaning 'from the planted place', though religious senses also seem appropriate. Vegetal senses of soul, near Dieulacres abbey, and the planting of the life force in harsh moorland conditions, could have been to the fore of importance in this place, which is associated with the Pearl-poet with his fondeness of both the bible and chivalrous nobility. The conversi of Dieulacres were converted brethren by God's 'planted' Word and were 'lay brethren' of the abbey. Such a sense is inscribed on the nearby Wincle Chapel: Here Do O Lord Sure Plant Thy Word. God's Word was associated also with the light of creation which was likely valued in the moorlands, not least through the harsh and dark winters around this abbey's 'planted' granges on days when the highest did not reach above the clouds.

Hence, the Plants could have been people planted in the Cistercian hills to support the needs of the abbey. It seems that they were from several different genetic male-lines which suggests religious brethren all planted in much the same place, which is unusual for several men who were allocated a single name. Though the abbey's granges are now largely lost to nature, some farmsteads remain and these are no longer so remote and isolated as initially. Also, perceptions of life and soul are now further developed, in our more modern understandings of present times. It seems clear that modern meanings of the word plant have lost much of their earlier senses: these ranged from horticulture to rebirth to planted virtue made real by religious exegesis – a not dissimilar meaning has been ascribed to the surname Converse. Conversi were generally illiterate though, by 1425, there is surviving evidence of an Oxford educated John Plant who was a monk of Woburn abbey. The meaning of the Plant surname still meets with diverse opinion, such as a gardener, or planter, or from a planted place, or an offshoot or offspring or child. In their main homeland, the Plants were seemingly God's children as planted conversi producing 'fruit of birth'; here, they apparently took root in the moorlands as spiritual lay brethren of the abbey.

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7.3 The offshoot sense in short

The 2016 Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland lists the following meanings for the surname Plant: "(1) English: nickname for a gardener, or perhaps for a child by metaphorical application of 'sprig, offshoot', although there is no specific evidence to support the latter explanation; (2) Norman: locative name from Le Plantis (Orne) or some other place similarly named."

This includes a reference to me (JSP) as appropriate especially to the meaning 'offshoot', since the developed meaning 'young offspring' in Ernest Weekly's Surnames book (1916) does not include any contemporary justification for that sense. Hence, I here briefly summarise some evidence that I have included on this webpage above for the early 'shoot, offshoot' meaning of Plant.

The 'shoot' sense is recorded in histories written by the monks of Marmoutier abbey in Greater Anjou, which include reference to: (a) their founder St Matin having been 'the highest shoot of gentile blood'; (b) the love of hair by their one-time local Merovingian kings; and, (c) the first mention (circa 1173-80) of the nickname Plantegenest (sic) for Geffrey the Fair of Anjou (the meaning of this nickname is an instance of a 'hairy shoot', combining the traditions of 'highest shoot' and 'hair'). At the same time, this same nickname spelled Plante Genest is recorded also in western Normandy, alongside the name Durand Plante (1180) who fought a 'duel upon duel' and whose nickname could refer to his characteristics of being a 'vigorous young shoot', which is metaphorically consistent with Weekly's suggested meaning 'young offspring'. [see esp. section 3.2 above]

Cleanness poem:
Gawain Manuscript Cleanness
Noah and his children

The wherewithal for the Plant surname evidently spread to England, likely not least through the royal courts of the descending line of English kings from Geffrey the Fair, and spreading not least to Dieulacres abbey with its royal patronage, whose core lands became the most populous homeland for the Plant surname. Here, the local author of the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight secularised religion with chivalric codes, also alluding to the biblical text of Genesis 2:8 as worded at that time [plantaverat autem Dominus Deus paradisum voluptatis]. The local description of God's paradise [Gen 2:8] appeared in this poet's sermon-like poem Cleanness which represented God's 'plantted' (sic) paradise [Cleanness lines 1006-7] as God's privately taught 'kynde-craft' of sexual pleasure [Cleanness lines 697-708]. This, alongside local courtly aspirations, is consistent with the frequent application of the Plant name locally, not least to the Cistercian conversi (lay brethren, cf. surname Converse) of Dieulacres who appear called Plant in this abbey's records with their Plant nickname evidently applying to God's planting of a 'fertile shoot' or offshoot of the abbey. This is consistent with the meaning 'God increase it' of this abbey's name and a biblical reference to God giving increasing. [1 Corinthians 3:6 Ego plantavi, Apollo rigavit: sed Deus incrementum dedit]. [see esp. sections 1.5, 4.4-6 and 5 above]

Also, the then biblical text of Psalmi 143.12 refers to the sons of Israel as 'new plantings' which is applicable to the 'young offspring' sense of the developing Plant surname more widely (albeit for gentiles). [Psalmi 143.12 quorum filii sicut novella plantationis in iuventute]

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Footnote: Some lyrics of Robert Anthony Plant CBE

Perhaps no modern account of the planted seeds of love and soul is complete without a brief mention of Robert Anthony Plant (1948-). His lyrics with Led Zeppelin and as a separate singer later were often mystical, philosophical, spiritual and included the seasonal metaphor of vegetal life:

It is the springtime of my loving – the second season I am to know / You are the sunshine in my growing – so little warmth I've felt before. / These are the seasons of emotion and like the wind they rise and fall [The Rain Song, 1973]

I caught the taste of springtime on your lips / I sense the sunshine in your eyes [Like I've never been gone, 1982] The taste upon your lips of sunshine's slow farewell [Season's Song, 2017]

The last time she kissed my cheeks, her lips were like wilted leaves, upon the autumn covered hills / Resting on the frozen ground, the seeds of love lie cold and still [Last time I saw her, 2002]

For comparison in the main Plant homeland, the so-called Pearl-poet made frequent reference to biblical passages, such as in the 14th-century poem Pearl: 'For all grass must grow from grains that are dead / No wheat would else to barn be won' [lines 29-30 Tolkein and Gordon's translation]. As well as the passing of vegetal life through the seasons, it links from the end back to the beginning. This appears in the context of coming to terms with the death of the narrator's two year old Pearl-maiden; with pearl linked to a dead seed of perfection as well as a risen heavenly maiden as a bride of Christ.

For Robert Plant, there was the young death of his five year old son Karac to a stomach infection in 1977. He ascribed lyrics in two of his songs, 1978 and 1993, to this major misfortune which bears some resemblance to the loss of the young Pearl-maiden.

In Pearl, the narrator falls asleep on his dead daughter's grave, imagines cliffs splitting the sky (a feature of the main Plant homeland, illustrated below) and he dreams of supernatural life which is likened to exquisitely woven cloth. 'Suddenly my spirit rose from that spot / while in body I remained asleep on the mound ... I could not say where I was in the world / but my soul was set down where cliffs split the sky ... never on this earth did a human hand weave cloth as equisite in ornament' [lines 61-2, 65-7, 71-2, Armitage translation].

Robert Plant's lyric of 1978, soon after Karac's death, speaks of a woven cloak of supernatural life with a forceful thread of remembrance:

Should I fall out of love, my fire in the light – To chase a feather in the wind / Within the glow that weaves a cloak of delight – There moves a thread that has no end / For many hours and days that pass ever soon – The tides have caused the flame to dim / Yours is the cloth, mine is the hand that sews time – His is the force that lies within [All my love, 1978]

Later, the lyric of 1993 describes the long lingering effects of Kirac's premature death, on his sister, mother and his father Robert himself. Hence:

Tears, tears at the waters edge – Hey little sister give us laughter instead / This restless spirit takes a long way back home – Like the wind, you are free / Tears from your Mother, from the pits of her soul / Look at your Father, see his blood run cold / Like the wind, you are free – Just a whisper, I hear you, so talk to me [I believe, 1993]

From Robert Plant's earlier Led Zeppelin days, Stairway to Heaven (1971) is likely their best known song:

There's a feeling I get / When I look to the west / And my spirit is crying for leaving // And it's whispered that soon, / If we all call the tune / Then the piper will lead us to reason // And as we wind on down the road / Our shadows taller than our soul / There walks a lady we all know .. 𝅘𝅥𝅮   𝅘𝅥𝅮   // And if you listen very hard / The tune will come to you at last / When all is one and one is all ..

When all is one and one is all ... To be a rock and not to roll   [Stairway to Heaven, 1971]
Robert Plant and the ancestral homeland
Robert Plant and the ancestral Plant homeland

Cyclic repetition in life can be compared to the philosophical work 'On the Divisions of Nature' by Johannes Scottus Erigena (ca.800-ca.877) in which the third state is all things in space and time, followed by the last which again is God, this time not as creator as in the first state but as the End and Purpose of all things. Hence, for the beginning and for the end, Scottus held that everything that emanates from God strives to return to Him; thus, the end of all such things is the same as their beginning [Russell p 399]. The second and third states are respectively the many prime causes and their many effects. In contrast, God in the first and fourth states is the One; hence the reference in Robert Plant's lyric to 'when all is one and one is all' as the purpose of the 'Stairway to Heaven': to return to the One and the beginning. The bridge between the One and the many is the Logos, also called God's planted Craft in Old English and similarly His planted Word in Middle English.

More straightforward texts in later medieval times include: The plant soul has three powers and the noblest is generation [Thomas Aquinas 1225-74]; Love is the plont of pees most precious of virtues [William Langland c.1330-c.1400]; "O pearl," I asked, "prepared in white, Are you my pearl for whom I've pined And hung my head each hopeless night When gall and grief my heart confined?" [Pearl maiden poem, lines 241-44, late 14th century, Casey Finch translation].

Note on Robert's male-line descent: Some incomplete attempts to dig into the male-line Plant relationships of the said singer Robert are outlined for example in connection with Note 1 of the document here. However, so far, we have not got far with y-DNA testing any Plants from around Sherrifhales for example, in order to check out some possible close connections of Plant male lines descending from those Plant forebears relative to those decending from other early Plants. The collected male-line data that has been obtained in our y-DNA Plant project is described here — for example the Plant volunteer P49a belongs to Branch II of the Main Family and has an early ancestral line that is possibly associated with Sherrifhales. As a general point in connection with this data, there is somewhat more than a 50% chance that Robert, though untested, belongs to the genetic male-line Main Plant Family and the linkage chances, such as through purely male lines, or with a female link, can thereby be assessed for other Plants with tested y-DNA [for which testing is availble at FTDNA™, though not by Ancestry™ DNA testing for example which is different].

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