G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

A medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation online

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instruction of liis daughters, a book which became the most popular
educational treatise of the Middle Ages. This " Book of the Knight of
the Tower " was translated into German, and at least twice into Enghsh ;
it had passed through seven editions in the three languages before 1550.
After Caxton's edition of 1483 there was none in EngUsh until it was
reprinted in 1868 by T. Wright for the Early Enghsh Text Society,
from a MS. of Henry VI.'s reign. It is from this edition that the
following four extracts are taken.

261.— Marital amenities*

(p. 23).

WILL say an ensample that it is an evil
thing to a woman to be in jealousy. There
was a gentlewoman that was wedded to a
squire, and she loved him so much that she
was jealous over all women that he spake
with ; for the which he blamed her often, but it was
never the better. And among other she was jealous of
a woman that had a great and high heart ; and so on
a time she reproved that woman with her husband, and
she said she said not true ; and the wife said she lied.
And they ran together and pulled off all that ever was
on their heads, and plucked each other by the hair of
the head right evil. And she that was accused, caught
a staff, and smote the wife on the nose such a stroke
that she brake her nose, and that all her life after she
had her nose all crooked, the which was a foul maim
and blemishing of her visage ; for it is the fairest




562 A Medieval Garner.

member that man or woman hath, and sitteth in the
middle of the visage. And so was the wife fouled and
maimed all her life, and her husband said often to
her, that it had been better that she had not been
jealous, than for to have undone her visage as she had.
And also for that defouling of her visage her husband
might never find in his heart to love her heartily as he
did before, and he took other women, and thus she lost
his love through her jealousy and folly. And therefore
here is a good example to all good women, that they
ought to leave all such fantasies, and suffer and endure
patiently their anger, if they have any ; . . . . Also, a
woman ought not to strive with her husband, nor give
him no displeasance nor answer her husband before
strangers, as did once a woman that did answer her
husband before strangers like a rampe, with great
villainous words, dispraising him and setting him at
nought ; of the which he was often ashamed, and bade
her hold her peace for shame, but the more fair he spake,
the worse she did. And he, that was angry of her
governance, smote her with his fist down to the earth ;
and then with his foot he struck her in the visage and
brake her nose, and all her life after she had her nose
crooked, the which shent and disfigured her visage after,
that she might not for shame shew her visage, it was
so foul blemished. And this she had for her evil and
great language, that she was wont to say to her husband.
And therefore the wife ought to suffer and let the
husband have the words, and to be master, for that is
her worship ; for it is shame to hear strife between
them, and in especial before folk. But I say not but
when they be alone, but she may tell him with goodly

words, and counsel him to amend if he do amiss

It happened once there were iij merchants that went
homeward from a fair, and as they fell in talking, riding
on the way, one of them said, " It is a noble thing for
a man to have a good wife that obeyeth and doth his
bidding at all times." " By my troth," said that other,
" my wife obeyeth me truly." " By God," said that
other, " I trow mine obeyeth best to her husband."
Then he that began first to speak said, " Let us lay a

Marital Amenities. 563

wager of a dinner, and whose wife that obeyeth worst,
let her husband pay for the dinner ; " and thus the
wager was laid. And they ordained among them how
they should say to their wives, for they ordained that
every man should bid his wife leap into a basin that
they should set before her, and they were sworn that
none should let his wife have witting of their wager,
save only they should say, " Look, wife, that whatsoever
I command be done." However it be, after one of
them bade his wife leap into the basin that he had set
afore her on the ground, and she answered and asked :
" Whereto ? " and he said, " for it is my lust, and I
will that ye do it." " By God," quoth she, " I wQl
first wit whereto ye will have me leap into the basin."
And for nothing her husband could do she would not
do it. So her husband up with his fist, and gave her
ij or iij great strokes ; and then went they to the second
merchant's house, and he commanded that whatever
he bade do it should be done, but it was not long after
but he bade his wife leap into the basin that was afore
her on the floor, and she asked : " Whereto ? " and
she said she would not for him. And then he took a
staff, and all to-beat her ; and then they went to the
third merchant's house, and there they found the
meat on the board, and he whispered in one of his
fellows' ears, and said, " After dinner I will assay my
wife, and bid her leap into the basin." And so they
set them to their dinner. And when they were set, the
good man said to his wife, " Whatever I bid, let it be
done, however it be." And she, that loved him and
dreaded him, heard what he said, and took heed to
that word ; but she wist not what he meant ; but it
happed that they had at their dinner rere-eggs, and
there lacked salt on the board, and the good man said,
" Wife, sele sus table ; " and the wife understood that
her husband had said, " seyle sus tables'' the which is in
French, " leap on the hoard.'''' And she, that was afraid
to disobey, leapt upon the board, and threw down
meat, and drink, and brake the glasses, and spilt all that
there was on the board. " What," said the good man,
" then can ye none other play, wife ? " " Be ye mad,

5^4 A Medieval Garner.

sir," she said, " I have done your bidding, as ye bade
me to my power, notwithstanding it is your harm and
mine ; but I had liever ye had harm and I both, than I
disobeyed your bidding. For ye said, ' seyle sus table.'' "
" Nay," quoth he, "I said, ' sele sus tahUy that is to
say, salt on the board." " By my troth," she said, " I
understood that ye bade me leap on the board," and
there was much mirth and laughing. And the other
two merchants said it was no need to bid her leap into
the basin, for she obeyed enough ; wherefore they
consented that her husband had won the wager, and
they had lost both. And after she was greatly praised
for her obeisance to her husband, and she was not beat,
as were that other ij wives that would not do their
husband's commandment. And thus poor men can
chastise their wives with fear and strokes, but a gentle-
woman should chastise herself with fairness, for other-
wise they should not be taught.

262.— (Gossip in Cburcb.

(p. 41)

ET will I tell you what befel at the mass of
the holy man, St. Martin of Tours, and as
he said mass there holp him St. Brice, the
which was his clerk and godson, that after
St. Martin was archbishop of Tours, the
which Brice took up a great laughing, and St. Martin
perceived it. And when the mass was done, St. Martin
asked him why he laughed, and he answered, that he
saw the fiend write all the laughings that were between
the women at the mass, and it happed that the parch-
ment that he wrote in was short, and he plucked hard
to have made it longer with his teeth, and it scaped out
of his mouth, and his head had a great stroke against
the wall, " and that made me to laugh." And when
St. Martin heard him, he knew that St. Brice was an
holy man. And he preached this to the women, and
how it was a great peril and sin to speak and counsel

Gossip in Church.


of worldly matters at the mass or at God's service, and
that it were better not to be there than to have such
language and clattering. And yet some clerks sustain
that none should not speak no manner thing while they
be at mass, and especial at the gospel, nor at the ' per
omnia ; ' and therefore, daughters, here is an example
how ye shall hold you humble and devout in the church,
and for no thing have no jangling with nobody while
ye are at the mass, nor while ye serve God.


From the famous tapestrv at Montpezat, dating from about 1500. (Didron, Annales

Archaiolofjiques, iii, 95, cf. 11, 2G8). Note the statuo of Moses with his horus

under the niche on the altar. The same scene is represented on

the carved screen of St. Fiacre in Brittany.

566 A Medieval Garner,

263.— a Eomance of Eutb.

(p. 119).

NOTHER example I shall tell you of a good
lady named Ruth, of whom descended the
king David. Holy Scripture praiseth much
the same lady, for she loved God truly and
she honoured Him. And she honoured and
obeyed unto her husband as a good woman at all times,
and for the l6ve of her husband she honoured and loved
all his friends, and bare them more favour and privity
than unto her own friends ; whereupon it befel that
after, when her husband was dead, his sons that were of
another wife, they would have left her nothing, nor
lands, heritage, nor meuble ; and she was of a strange
country, and far from her friends. And the woman
fell into a great heaviness by the occasion hereof, but
the friends of her husband, that loved her for the great
goodness and cherishing that they had found in her
the time before in her husband's life, they withstood
against the sons of her husband. And they were with
her in her helping, insomuch that she had all that she
ought to have by right and of custom. And in this wise
the good woman saved and won her own, for the friend-
ship and good company that she had y-done unto the
kin of her husband, and unto his friends, while he was
living. And therefore here is a good example how
every good woman oweth to worship and to love kin and
friends of her husband, for aye the more semblance of
love that she showeth unto them, the more wealth she
shall have among them.

The Lost Marriage. 567

264.~CJ)e lost Carriage.

(p. 165)

SHALL tell you of an ensample of a knight's
daughter that lost her marriage by her
nicety. There was a knight that had iij
daughters, of the which the eldest was
wedded, and there was a knight that axed
the second daughter both for land and marriage ;
insomuch that the knight came for to see her that
should be his wife, and for to be assured and affianced
together, if they were pleased each with other, for
neither of them had seen other before that time. And
the damosel, that knew of the knight's coming, she
arrayed himself in the best guise that she could for to
have a slender and a f air-shapen body, and she clothed
her in a cote-hardie unfurred, the which sat right strait
upon her, and it was great cold, great frost, and great
wind ; and for the simple vesture that she had upon,
and for the great cold that was at that time, the colour
of the maid was defaced, and she waxed all pale and
black of cold. So this knight that was come for to
see her, and beheld the colour of her all dead and pale,
and after that he looked upon that other sister that she
had, and saw her colour fresh and ruddy as a rose, {for
she was well clothed, and warm against the cold, as she
that thought not upon no marriage at so short a time)
the knight beheld first that one sister and after that
other. And when he had dined, he called two of his
friends and of his kin, and said unto them, " Sirs ! we
be come hither for to see the daughters of the lord of
this place, and I know well that I should have which
that I would choose, wherefore I would have the third
daughter." And his friends answered him, that it was
more worship unto him for to have the elder." " Fair
friends," said the knight, " ye see but little advantage
therein,* for ye know well they have an elder sister,

* i.e., apparently the wedded sister had taken the lion's share of the
inheritance, so that there would be little pecuniary difference between
the second and the third.

568 A Medieval Garner.

the which is wedded ; and also I see the youngest, the
fairest and freshest of colour, more pleasant than her
second sister, for whom I was spoken unto for to have
in marriage ; and therefore my pleasaunce is to have
her." And the knight axed the third daughter, which
was granted him ; whereof folk were marvelled, and in
especial the maid that weened for to have been wedded
unto the same knight. So it happed within short time
after, they married the young damosel, the which the
knight had refused because the cold had paled her
colour and withdrawn her fairness ; after when she
was well clothed and furred, and the weather was
changed to warmer, her colour and fairness was come
again, so that she was fresher and fairer an hundred
part than was her sister, the knight's wife ; and so
the knight said unto her, " My fair sister, when I was to
wed, and I came for to see you, ye were not so fair by
the seventh part as ye be now, for ye be now right fair
and well coloured, and then ye were all pale and of
other colour, and now ye pass your sister my wife in
fairness, whereof I have great marvel." And then the
knight's wife answered, " My lord, I shall tell you how
it was ; my sister thought v/ell that ye should come for
to affiance her as for your wife ; and for to make her
gentle, and small, and fair bodied, she clothed her in a
simple cote-hardie, not doubled ; and it was cold
winter, and great frost, and great wind, and that
permuted her colour, and I, that thought as much to
have such wealth and worship as for to have you unto
my lord without any nicety, I was well clothed with
furred gowns that kept my body warm, wherefore I
had better colour than she had ; whereof I thank God,
for therefore I gat your love ; and blessed be the hour
that my sister clothed herself so light, for if it had not
been so, ye had not taken me for to have left her."
Thus lost, as ye have heard, the elder daughter her
marriage because she quainted herself.

Ghaucer^s Archdeacon. 569

The British Museum Royal MS. 6. E. VI., is a great theological
dictionary in two volumes, compiled at the beginning of the 14th
century from many earher authors of repute. The book illustrates
in many passages the ideas of Dante's age : e.g. on fol. 37b. the friars
are spoken of in much the same terms as Par. XII. 112£[. and the author
refers to the damnation of Pope Anastasius for heresy (f. 360b cf Inf
XI. 8.)

265.— Crain up a mut in tU toap sfte sbouin go.

(f. 214a, under tlie rubric Castigare).

|0RE0VER, a man may chastise his wife and
beat her for her correction ; for she is of
his household, and therefore the lord may-
chastise his own, as it is written in Gratian's
Decretum, part 2. c. VII q.l. under the gloss
jvdicari* Also a master in the schools may chastise
or beat his disciple, even though this latter be a clerk,
provided only that he exceed not due measure ; nor
doth he thereby incur the stigma of excommunication, t
even though his disciple be in Holy Orders, if the
chastisement be for discipline's sake . . . And note
that clerics may be beaten with rods. ,

* " He may chastise her temperately, for she is of his household."
The same doctrine is laid down in Part I. Dist. XXV. c. 3, s.v. servum.
" So likewise the husband is bound to chastise his wife in moderation.
. . . unless he be a clerk, in which case he may chastise her more
severely." The Wife of Bath's last husband, being a clerk of Oxford,
was possibly conscious of this privilege, Gratian's Decreium, though
never recognized as absolutely authoritative on all points, was through-
out the Middle Ages the great text-book of Canon Law.

t Under the rubric siquis suadente diaholo. See note to No. 177.

266.— cijaucer's arcbDeacon.

(f. l.S'2b, rubric Archidiaconus) .

ND, seeing that God Almighty, Whose are all
things, demandeth not money for sin, yet
certain judges, who altogether ignore this,
or who scorn it presumptuously and of set
purpose, remit for a small money-fine the
spiritual or corporal penalties fixed by the Canons for
sin, and (which is yet worse) in violation of repeated

570 A Medieval Garner,

Canons and Constitutions, take payments of money
from the delinquents for mortal and notorious sins, and
such as breed scandal . . . (135b.) And, albeit they
are at fault in many things, yet these are their besetting
sins. First, they impose unlawful taxes upon the
priests of their archdeaconries . . . Secondly, that
they must needs take the white cow or some other
worldly chattel for the ceremony of institution . . .
Thirdly, that they suffer the clergy to live in their sins,
for the sake of the moneys which they extort from them
. . . Eighthly, that, to the detriment of their own good
name, they must needs have light women in their

From a MS, volume of English Sermons, written at the latter end of
the fourteenth century, and now preserved in the library of St. Martin's-
in-the-Fields, London. (Reliquiae Antiquae, II., 45.) The preacher
is arguing against those who defend miracle-plays,

267.— a Sermon against ^iracfe^piaps.

UT here-against they say en (1) that they
playen these miracles in the worship of God,
and so diden not these Jews that bobbeden
Christ. (2) Also oftentimes by such miracle-
playing be men converted to good living, as
men and women seeing in miracle-playing that the
devil by their array (by the which they moven each
other to lechery and to pride) maketh them his servants
to bring themselves and many others to Hell, and to
have far more villainy hereafter by their proud array
there than they have worship here. And seeing further-
more that all this worldly being here is but vanity for
a while, as is miracle-playing, wherethrough they leaven
their pride and taken to them afterwards a meek
conversation of Christ and of His saints ; and so
miracle-playing turneth men to the belief and not
perverteth. (3) Also oftentimes by such miracle-play-

Miracle-Plays. 5 7 1

ing men and women seeing the passion of Christ and of
His saints be moved to compassion and devotion,
weeping bitter tears. Then they be not scorning of
God but worshipping. (4) Also profitable to men and
to the worship of God it is to fulfillen and seeken all
the means by the which men may see sin and drawen
them to virtues. And sith as there be men that only
by earnestful doing willen be converted to God, so there
be other men that willen be converted to God but by
games and play ; and nowadaj'^s men be not converted
by the earnest doing of God nor by men nor of men ;
then now it is timely and skilful to assayen to converten
the people by plays and games, as by miracle-playing
and other manner mirths. (5) Also some recreation
men must have, and better it is or less evil that they
have their recreation by playing of miracles than by
playing of other japes. (6) Also since it is lawful to
have the miracles of God painted, why is not as well
lawful to have the miracles of God played, since men
may better readen the will of God and His marvellous
works in the playing of them than in the painting ?
and better they be holden in men's minds and often
rehearsed by the playing of them than by the painting,
for this is a dead book, the other a quick.

(1) To the first reason we answeren saying that such
miracle-playing is not to the worship of God. For they
be done more to be seen of the world and to pleasen to
the world than to be seen of God or to pleasen to Him,
as Christ never ensampled them, but only heathen men
that evermore dishonouren God, saying that to the
worship of God that is to the most villainy of Him ;
therefore as the wickedness of the misbelief of heathen
men lieth to themselves when they sayen that the
worship of ther maumetry is to the worship of God, so
men's lechery nowadays to have their own lusts lieth to
themselves, when they say that such miracle-playing

is to the worship of God (2) And as anents

the second reason we say that, right as a virtuous deed
is otherwise occasion of evil, as was the passion of
Christ to the Jews, but not occasion given but taken of
them, so evil deeds be occasion of good deeds otherwhile,

572 A Medieval Garner.

as was the sin of Adam occasion of the coming of Christ,
but not occasion given of the sin but occasion taken of
the great mercy of God ; the same wise miracle-playing,
albeit that it be sin, is otherwhile occasion of converting
of men, but as it is sin it is far more occasion of pervert-
ing of men, not only of one singular person but a whole
country, as it maketh all the people to be occupied in
vain, against this behest of the Psalter-book that saith
to all men, (and especially to priests that each day
readen it in their service,) " Turn away mine eyen that
they see not vanities," and again, " Lord, Thou hatest
all waiting [on] vanities." How, then, may a priest
playen in interludes or given himself to the sight of
them, sithen it is forbidden him so expressly by the
aforesaid behest of God ? especially, sithen he curseth
each day in his service all those that bowen away from
the behests of God : but, alas ! more harm is, priests
nowadays must shrewen themselves, and all day, as
many that all day crien " What, shrew ! " shrewing
themselves. Therefore, miracle-playing, sithen it is
against the behests of God that biddeth that thou shalt
not take God's name in idle, it is against our belief, and
so it may not give occasion of turning men to the belief
but of perverting, and therefore many men weenen
that there is no Hell of everlasting pains, but that God
doth but threaten us and not do it indeed, as be playing
of miracles in sign and not in deed.* Therefore such
miracle-playing not only perverteth our belief but our
very hope in God, by the which saints hopeden that the
more they abstaineden them from such plays the more
meed they then should have of God ; and therefore

* Such freethought was common already in the 13th century, as
Berthold von Kegensburg testifies (ed. PfeifEer, I., 386 : of. II., 227.)
" Some men say ' the man who is used to hell is more at his ease there
than elsewhere.' That is a great lie : for no man can ever be used to
hell. Master Cain was the first to go down thither ; yet his torments
are as sore, and the fire is as hot for him at this hour as on the first day :
and if a man is to grow used to hell at all, then Cain might well be so
used after these seven thousand five hundred years. Others again say
(I have heard it even from learned folk) that our Lord maketh for some
men a house and a mansion in hell, that no torment may come nigh
them. That again is a lie and a heresy."

MiracIc-PIays. 573

the holy Sara, the daughter of Raguel,* hoping her
meed of God, saith : " Lord, thou wottest that never
I coveted man, and clean have I kept myself from all
lusts : never with plays y-mingled me myself." And
by this true confession to God, as she hoped, so had
she her prayers heard and great meed of God ; and,
sithen a young woman of the Old Testament, for keeping
the bodily virtue of chastity and for to worthily take
the Sacrament of Matrimony when her time should
come, abstained her from all manner idle playing and
from all company of idle players ; much more a priest
of the New Testament, (that is passed the time of
childhood, and not only should keep chastity but all
other virtues, not only ministering the sacrament of
matrimony but all other sacraments, and especially
sithen him oweth to minister to all the people the
precious Body of Christ) ought to abstain him from all

idle playing both of miracles and else

(3) By this we answeren to the third reason, saying
that such miracle-playing giveth none occasion of very
weeping and needful ; but the weeping that falleth to
men and women by the sight of such miracle-playing,
as thej^ be not principally for their own sins nor of
their good faith within sorry, but more of their sight
without, [therefore their] sorrow is not allowable before
God but more reprovable. For, sithen Christ Himself
reproved the women that wepten upon Him in His
passion, much more they be reprovable that weepen
for the play of Christ's passion, leaving to weepen for
the sins of themselves and their children, as Christ
bade the women that wepten on Him. (4) And by
this we answeren to the fourth reason, saying that no
man may be converted to God but only by the earnest-
ful doing of God and by none vain playing. For that
which the word of God worketh not, nor His sacraments,
how should playing worken, that is of no virtue but

Online LibraryG. G. (George Gordon) CoultonA medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation → online text (page 48 of 61)