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Yet like Busnoys's, Ockeghem's musical career had a modest start: the unbeneficed singer listed at Antwerp in 1443/4 could well have been a late teenager, at most in minor orders, and part of an unruly clerical subculture of which chapter acts (when they survive) rarely fail to report startling excesses of indecency, profanity and violence.
And closer study of the songs, which seem to have won him an international reputation much more quickly, might give us a more intimate picture of his creative thought-processes during these years, when he is likely to have remained in close touch with the musically resourceful if earthy environment of unbeneficed singers (as in songs like 'S'elle m'amera - Petite camusette' or 'L'autre d'antan'), and may have written many now anonymous works to which serious consideration has so far been denied.
Consequently she argues that the parish clergy from the unusually well educated rectors and vicars, the myriad chantry priests and the unbeneficed stipendiary priests formed a homogeneous body of secular clergy which lived harmoniously with the Augustinian canons of St Augustine's abbey, the Benedictines of St James's priory and the friars of the four town convents.
Among the unsung heroes of the resurgence of writing in English in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are the unbeneficed--that is, unemployed or underemployed--clergy, many of whom earned full or partial livings in various mundane ecclesiastical jobs, in administrative writing offices, or as freelance scribes Twentieth-century scholars of church history referred to these unbeneficed clergy as the "clerical proletariat": a "submerged" class of clergy who had only their daily labor to live upon and whose competence was almost always underestimated.
McHardy studies the demographics of the unbeneficed clergy in statistics from the three poll taxes of 1377, 1379, and 1381.
What all these texts speak to in some way is the fact that the unbeneficed clergy found themselves in circumstances that forced them to be dependent on the laity for their livelihood.
Some unbeneficed clergy, of course, might have preferred "free-lancing," and some landed on their feet in quite respectable non-ecclesiastical jobs: Hoccleve, despite his grumbling, was clearly a valued member of the king s service in the Office of the Privy Seal." But the unbeneficed more often appear as an economically disadvantaged group who, as Robert Swanson writes, lived "if not from hand to mouth, then from death to death, literally singing for their suppers." (12) But lest we assume that such clergy were the dregs of the profession, Tim Cooper notes:
Historians often cite the "autobiographical passage" in Langland's Piers Plowman as accurately portraying the plight of the unbeneficed and, more specifically, those without patronage for study.
Therfore now, devoute sustren, helpeth me with preiers, for me lackith kunnynge, ayens my grete febelnes." (29) The use of the motif here, though possibly just rhetorical, hints at something more: where scholars have routinely assumed monastic authorship and copying of late medieval devotional works like the Orchard, unbeneficed workers are also possible candidates and are documented on both sides of the monastic wall.
(42) The swelling ranks of the unbeneficed clergy were dependent on the laity for their funding-something that was slowly changing the dynamics of English society and vernacular literature.
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