Our frequent correspondent C. Simon writes:

Has Dr. Boli encountered the Book of Saint Albans? It is a hunting and hawking treatise, but no matter; the real interest in this book is that it is reputed by some to be the foremost authority on collective nouns like a parliament of owls, an exultation of doves, a murder of crows, etc. Now that claim is either a true or false one, which can be verified simply by opening the book and reading it, to see if it contains the said terms or not, which I would do myself except the typography is so interesting I cannot stop looking at the letters for long enough to read the words. Perhaps someone courtesy of this magazine can help me with my predicament.

The book can be ordered courtesy of the Book of Google, reputed by some to be the foremost authority on the rest of humanity’s useless information, here.

[A much better scan is here at]

The type is indeed strange to modern eyes, not at all like the clear blackletter or roman types used in most English books after 150o or so. The bastarda type used in this book, according to the scholars who reprinted it in facsimile, is a castoff from William Caxton, who had given it up in favor of a smaller type, and would later change to the blackletter type that would be standard for luxury books in English (like the King James Bible) for the next century and a half. Caxton had already worn down the letters pretty well, so they are not always as legible as they ought to be.

The spelling in this book would strike Chaucer or Malory as peculiar, doubtless representing a different pronunciation from the one that became standard printed English; and the printer seldom misses an opportunity to spell the same word two different ways at the very least. Plurals are generally formed by adding “-is” or “-ys” to the end of a noun.

The famous list of collective names for beasts and fowls (and not a few human animals as well) is stuffed in after the hunting section to take up three blank pages. Dr. Boli was surprised to find no transcription of it on the World-Wide Web, so he has transcribed it from the book to the best of his ability. Nevertheless, because of the obscurity of the provincial dialect and his own unfamiliarity with the littera bastarda, Dr. Boli admits that the transcription is far from perfect.

Why not make this a collaborative project? Dr. Boli has marked with an asterisk the words he did not recognize and may have misinterpreted. With the superior collective wisdom of the Internet, it ought to be possible to remove all uncertainty. Leave corrections as comments, with the confidence that you are making the world a little bit better for your efforts. [An update: Thanks to readers’ enthusiastic cooperation, we have eliminated all the asterisks, and have probably come as close as we can come to an accurate transcription in modern type.]

The Compaynys of beestys and fowlys.

an Herde of Hertis
an herde of all man (all manner?) dere
an Herde of Swannys
an Herde of Cranys (cranes)
an Herde of Corlewys (curlews)
an Herde of wrennys (wrens)
an Herde of harlottys
a Nye of Fesaunttys (pheasants)
a Bevy of Ladies
a Bevy of Roos (roes)
a Bevy of Quaylis
a Sege of heronnys
a Sege of betouris (bitterns)
a Sorde or a sute of malardis
a Mustre of Pecockys
a Walke of Snytis (snites)
a Congregation of peple
an Exaltyng of Larkis
a Wache of Nyghtingalis
an hoost of men
a Felishippyng of yomen
a Cherme of Goldfynches
a Cast of Brede (see Ecclesiastes 11:1)
a Couple or a payer of botillis
a Flight of Doves
an unkyndenes of Ravenes
a Clateryng of choughes
a Dissimulation of breddis (birds)
a Route of knyghtis
a Pride of lionys
a Sleuth of Beeris (bears)
a Cete of Graies (badgers)
a Bery of Conyis
a Riches of Matronys
a Besynes of ferettis
a Brace of grehoundis of ii
a Lece of Grehoundis of iii
a Coupult of spaynellis
a Couple of rennyng houndis
a Litter of Welpis
a Kyndill of yong Cattis
a Synguler of Boris (boars)
a Dryft of tame Swyne
an Harrasse of horse
a Ragge of coltis or a Rake
a Baren of Mulis
a Trippe of Gete (goats)
a Trippe of haaus (hogs)
a Gagle of gees
a Brode of hennys
a badelyng * of Dokis
a Noonpatiens of wyves
a State of Prynces
a Thongh of barons
a Prudens of vikeris (vicars)
a Superfluyte of Nunnys
a Scole of clerkes
a Doctryne of doctoris
a Convertyng of prechouris
a Sentence of Juges
a Dampnyng of Jurrouris
a Diligens of Messangeris
an Obeisians of seruauntis
a Sete of ussheris
a Draught of boteleris
a Proude shewyng of taloris
a Tempans of cokys
a Stalke of fosteris
a Boost of saudrouris (a boast of soldiers)
a Laughtre of Osteloris
a Glosyng of Taverneris
a Malepertnes of pedleres
a Thrave of Throsheris
a squatte of Dawberis
a Fightyng of beggers
an untrouth of sompneris
a Melody of Harpers
a Pauverty of pypers
a sotelty of sergeauntis
a Tabernacle of bakers
a Drifte of fishers
a Disgysing of Taylours
a Bleche of sowteris
a Smere of Coryouris
a Clustre of Grapys
a Clustre of chorlis
a Rage of Maydmys
a Rafull (“a rayful [that is, a netful]”) of knavys
a blush of boyes
an uncredibilite of Cocoldis
a Covy of partrichis
a Sprynge of Telis (teals)
a Desserte of Lapwyngs
a fall of woodcockis
a Congregation of Plevers
a Covert of cootis
a Duell of Turtillis
a Titengis of Pies
an Ost (host) of sparowis
a Swarme of bees
a cast of haukis of the tour ii
a Lece of the same haukis iii
a Flight of Goshaukes
a Flighte of swalowes
a beldyng (building) of Rookes
a Murmuration of stares
a Route of wolvess
a Lepe of Lebardis (leopards)
a Shrewdenes of Apis
a Skulke of Thivys
a skulke of Foxis
a Nest of Rabettis
a Labor of Mollis
a Mute of houndes
a Kenell of Rachis (hounds)
a Sute of a lyam (“Means the ‘following’ [suite] of a led hound.”)
a Cowardnes of curris (curs)
a Soundre of wilde swyne
a Stode of Maris
a Pase of Assis
a Drove of Nete
a Flocke of Shepe
a Gagle of women
a Pepe of chykennys
a Multiplieng of husbondis
a Pontificalite of prelatis
a Dignyte of chanonys (canons)
a Charge of curatis
a Discrecion of Prestis
a bhomynable sight of monkis
a Scoff of Fysh
a Example of Maisteris
an Obseruans of heremytis
an Eloquens of laweyeris
an Execution of Officeris
a faith of Marchandis
a provision of stewards of hous
a kerff of Panteris (pantrymen)
a Thretenyng of courteyeris
a Promyse of Tapsteris
a Lyeng of pardeneris
a Misbeleve of paynteris
a Lash of Carteris
a Scoldyng of Kemsteris (wool-combers)
a Wonderyng of Tynkeris
a Waywardnes of haylbardis
a Worship of Writeris
a Neverthrivyng of Jogoleris
a Fraunch of Mylneris
a Festre of Brweris (brewers)
a Goryng of Bochouris (butchers)
a Trynket of Courveseris (corvisers, shoemakers)
a Plocke of Shoturnetis (shoe-turners)
a Dronkship of Coblers
a Sculke of foxis
a Clustre of Nottis (nuts)
a Rage of the tethe
a Rascall of Boyes
a Disworship of Scottis


  1. Martha says:

    Taking a wild stab, I’d be willing to bet “corlewys” are “curlews”, and “a skulke of foyis” is surely “a skulk of foxes”?

    “A Clustre of Nottis” could be either “nuts” or “knots”, depending on whether the author used flora as well as fauna in his examples. “A cluster of nuts” seems to me to make more sense than “a cluster of knots”, unless “knots” refers to some obscure slang term for rope-makers or the like.

  2. Martha says:

    I cheated; according to Wikipedia, a “sege of betouris” is a “siege of bitterns”.

    I couldn’t see how you get “bittern” from “betour”, but according to Wikipedia once again: “the word “bittern” came to English from Old French butor, itself from Gallo-roman butitaurus, a portmanteau of Latin būtiō and taurus.” So Old French “butor” becoming Norman French/Anglo-French “betour” is plausible, at least.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      Here we see the power of collective wisdom at work! Where the feeble efforts of one meager brain fail, brains less meager step in.

  3. Dr. Boli says:

    All three of these corrections seem obviously correct. In fact, “a sculke of foxis” appears again later in the list (the printer, as we might expect, taking the opportunity to spell “skulk” a different way). The letter x in Caxton’s font is very similar to the letter y.

  4. Clay Potts says:

    Dr. Boli, Below is a link to a free e-book entitled, “Transactions of the Philological Society
    By Philological Society (Great Britain) 1907-1910” which contains, starting at about page 293, “An attempt at a rational explanation of the meanings of the Collection of the Phrases in the Book of St. Albans”. Perhaps this will shed additional light to many. OF ROOS&f=false

  5. Sean says:

    If a group of Scots is called a “Disworship”, is the proper title for a Scottish noble “Your Disworshipfulness”?

    • Dr. Boli says:

      According to the reference so helpfully provided by Mr. Potts, “Scottis” is a mistake of the anonymous printer of St. Albans. It should be “Stottis,” which clears up everything.
      A Disworship of Scots, 1
      Disworship of Scots 2

  6. Martha says:

    Looking at the text of a “Besynes of serettis” , it seems to me that what you have as “s” could instead be an “f”, which would make it “a busyness (business) of ferettis” or “ferrets”. Likewise, “a Stalke of sosteris” seems to me to be more “a stalk of fosteris” (fosters? forresters, could it be?)

    I am stumped by what could possibly be “a bleach of solbters”, though.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      Both your suggestions have been adopted and incorporated. As for the “solbters,” looking back at the printed page, we are confident that we have misread the text: it should be “sowters,” the “w” having two tall strokes that fooled us into reading it as “lb.” Then the reference Mr. Potts provided once more comes through for us:
      A Bleach of Souters

  7. Dr. Boli says:

    It seems that, with the help of our readers and the Philological Society, we have eliminated all the doubtful readings. Corrections are still welcome, of course, but together we have polished this transcription to a state where it may be genuinely useful to researchers who take an interest in traditional silly word games.

  8. Martha says:

    This was very enjoyable. Many thanks for affording innocent and wholesome amusement, Dr. Boli!

  9. Kathie says:

    Great enjoyment on seeing the ‘uncredibilite of Cocoldis’, unseen by me to date, as I have not had a ‘Multiplieng of husbondis’. One was enough.

    However, am wondering at the absence of ‘a Weevul of Bollis’.

  1. […] thanks to the readers who offered their assistance in interpreting the list of collective names in the Book of St. Albans. Dr. Boli hopes that, working together, we have all given some help to our original correspondent, […]

  2. […] Many of the terms of venery found in the Book of Saint Albans were meant to be humourous. Rather fantastically, the book has been digitized and is available online at Of course, much of it unreadable to the majority of people today. For a full list of the Compaynys of beestys and fowlys, you can visit this site. […]

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