G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

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

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very least ! — I misdoubt me sore of you ; I believe so
few are saved among those who are in the married state,
that, of a thousand marriages, nine hundred and ninety
nine (methinks) are marriages of the devil. Ah me !
deem not that Holy Matrimony is an asses' affair ;

Wives and Widows. 609

when God ordained it, He ordained it not that ye
should wallow therein as the swine wallow in the mire.
Thou shalt come tomorrow and know the truth. — But
to my subject again, and to my first four reasons ;
take them with discretion ; 'tis a sacred matter. And
I say that there are many friars who say " would that
I had taken a wife ! " Come to-morrow, and thou
shalt say the contrary of this. I say then, there are
four reasons that make for the honesty of this God-
ordained marriage. Hast thou noted, when the pack
sitteth ill [on a mule] and the one side weigheth more
than the other ? Knowest thou that a stone is laid
on the other side that it may sit straight ? so I say
of matrimony : it was ordained that the one might
aid the other in keeping the burden straight. And
mark me, women, that I hold with you so far as to
say that ye love your husbands better than they
love you.

First reason : the spouse thou hast is the spouse
ordained for thee by God. Second reason : she is
espoused to thee by plighted faith. Third reason :
thou shouldest love her after Christ's example. Fourth :
for her own tried virtue.

First, she hath been ordained for thy spouse by God,
Who ordained this from all eternity [Genesis II. 18 and
I. 28 ; Matt. XIX. 6]. . . .

Secondly, espoused by plighted faith. Seest thou
not that, when thou consentest to matrimony, a sign
is given thee, to last thy whole life long ? Thou,
woman, receivest the ring from thy spouse, which ring
thou bearest on thy finger, and thou settest it on that
finger which hath a vein running straight to the heart,
in token that thy heart consenteth to this marriage ;
and thou shouldst never be espoused but for thy
consentient Yes. . . .

Thirdly, marriage is love. What saith Paul in the
fifth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians ? — " Hus-
bands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church."
. . . Wouldst thou have a faithful wife ? Then keep
faith with her. Many men would fain take a wife and
can find none ; knowst thou why ? The man saith :

6io A Medieval Garner.

I must have a wife full of wisdom — and thou thyself
art a fool. This sorteth not : he-fool sorteth well with
she-fool. — How wouldst thou have thy wife ? — I would
have her tall — and thou art a mere willow- wren ; this
sorteth not. There is a country where women are
married by the ell-yard. It came to pass that one of
these people wanted a wife, and would fain see her
first : so the girl's brothers brought him to see her,
and she was shown to him without shoes or head-gear ;
and, measuring her stature, he found her tallest of all
the maidens, and he himself was one of those puny
weaklings ! In short, they asked of him " Well, is she
to thy mind ? " " Yea, truly, she pleaseth me well."
But she, seeing how miserable was his presence, said
" Yet art thou not to my mind." Lo, was that not
right ? — But to my point again. How wouldst thou
have this thy wife ? — I will have her an honest woman
— and thou art dishonest : that again is not well. Once
more how wouldst thou have her ? — I would have her
temperate — and thou art never out of the tavern :
thou shalt not have her ! O, how wouldst thou have
this wife of thine ? — I would not have her gluttonous
— and thou art ever at thy fegatelli :* that is not well.
I would have her active — and thou art a very
sluggard. Peaceful — and thou wouldst storm at a
straw if it crossed thy feet. Obedient — and thou
obeyest neither father nor mother nor any man ; thou
deservest her not. I would not have a cock — well,
thou art no hen. I would have her good and fair and
wise and bred in all virtue. — I answer, if thou wouldst
have her thus, it is fitting that thou shouldst be the
same ; even as thou seekest a virtuous, fair and good
spouse, so think likewise how she would fain have a
husband prudent, discreet, good, and fulfilled of all
virtue. . . .

And now to my second head, of Pleasure. . . . Read
Paul in the fifth chapter of his Ephesians ; "he that
loveth his wife, loveth himself " — How may this be ? —

* Slices of pig's liver, wrapped in the fat of the caul, and roasted

Wives and Widows. 6ii

Have I not already told thee that she was made of his
own flesh, and by God's hand ? . . . Wherefore, in the
teeth of all filthy revilers, I hold with the women, and
say that woman is cleaner and more precious in her
flesh than man ; and if a man hold the contrary, I say
that he lieth in his throat, and will prove it against him.
Wilt thou see ? Why, tell me, did not God create man
out of clay ? — Yes — then, ladies, the reason is as
clear as day ! For woman was made of [Adam's]
flesh and bone, so that she was made of more precious
things than thou. Lo ! thou mayest see a daily proof
how the woman is cleaner and daintier than thou. Let
a man and a woman wash as well as they can or may ;
and, when they are thus washed, let each take clean
water and wash again, and then note which of the two
waters is the dirtier, and thou shalt see that the man's
is far fouler than the woman's. Why is this ? Why,
wash a lump of clay and see the water that cometh
therefrom, and see how foul it is. Again, wash a rib
with the flesh thereunto appertaining, and the water
will indeed be somewhat foul, yet not so foul as that
wherein thou hast washed the clay. Or, to put it
better, wash an unbaked brick and thou shalt make
nought but broth : wash a bone, and thou shalt make
none such. So say I of man and woman in their nature
and origin : man is of clay, but woman is of flesh and
bone. And in proof of the truth of this, man, who is of
clay, is more tranquil than woman, who is of bone ;
for bones are always rattling.

For ye women — shame upon you, I say — for while
I say my morning mass ye make such a noise that
methinks I hear a very mountain of rattling bones, so
great is your chattering ! One crieth : Giovanna !
another, Caterina ! another, Francesca ! Oh, the fine
devotion that ye have to hear mass ! To my own
poor wit, it seems sheer confusion, without devotion
or reverence whatsoever. Do ye not consider how we
here celebrate the glorious body of Christ, Son of God,
for your salvation ? Ye should therefore sit here so
quiet that none need say hush ! But here cometh
Madonna Pigara, and will by all means sit in front of

6 12 A Medieval Garner.

Madonna SoUecita.* No more of this ! first at the
mill, first grind : take your seats as ye come, and let
none come hither before you. — Now to my point
again. . . .

Now to my third division, of Profit, under four heads.
. . . Firstly, the preciousness of fruit. how precious
are the fruits of a good woman, as the Scripture saith :
By their fruits you shall know them : . . . Many consider
not the value of a boy or a girl, and many folk who have
them hold them of little worth, and when their wife
brings forth a little girl, they cannot suffer her, so
small is their discretion ! Why, there are men who
have more patience with a hen, which layeth a fresh
egg daily, than with their own wedded wife : and
sometimes the hen may break a pipkin or a drinking-
vessel, and the man will not strike her, all for love of
her egg and for fear of losing the profit thereof. O
madmen thrice worthy of chains ! that cannot bear
with a word from their wife, who beareth such fair
fruit, but if she speak a word more than he thinketh
fit, forthwith he taketh the staff and will beat her ;
and the hen, cackling all day long without end, thou
hast patience with her for her paltry egg's sake ; yet
the hen will perchance do thee more harm in broken
vessels than she is worth ; and yet thou bearest with
her for her egg's sake ! Many a cross-grained feUow,
seeing perchance his wife less clean and delicate than
he would fain see her, smiteth her without more ado ;
and meanwhile the hen may befoul the table, and he
will suffer it. Dost thou not consider thy duty in this
matter ? Dost thou not see the pig, again, squeakuig
and squealing all day long, and always befouling thy
house ? Yet thou bearest with him until he be ripe
for the slaughter. Thou hast patience with him, only
for the profit of his flesh, that thou may est eat thereof.
Consider now, wicked fellow, consider the noble fruit
of the woman, and have patience ; not for every cause

* i.e. Mrs. Slow and Mrs. Worry. The whole scene is a vivid com-
mentary on Chaucer's Prologue, 449, and Cant. Tales, B., 3091. For
the Proverb, see Wife of Bath's Prologue (C.T., D., 389).

Wives and Widows.


There, enough now of

is it right to beat her.
this first point. . .

The third point is the remembrance of her necessity.
. . . Wherefore, as thou seest that thy wife endureth
travail on every side, therefore thou, O husband, if she
fall into any need, be sure thou help her to bear her
pain. If she be with child or in childbirth, aid her so


From a MS. of 1456 in A. Schultz, Deutsches Leben, fig. 3ii.

far as in thee lieth, for it is thy child also. Let all help
her whereinsoever they may. Mark her well, how she
travaileth in childbirth, travaileth to suckle the child,
travaileth to rear it, travaileth in washing and cleaning
by day and by night. All this travail, seest thou, is
of the woman only, and the man goeth singing on his
way. There was once a baron's lady who said to me :

6 14 A Medieval Garner.

" Methinks the dear Lord our Master doth as He seeth
good, and I am content to say that He doth well. But
the woman alone beareth the pain of the children in
many things — bearing them lq her body, bringing
them into the world, ruling them, and all this often-
times with grievous travail. If only God had given
some share to man — if only God had given him the
child-bearing ! " Thus she reasoned ; and I answered :
" Methinks there is much reason on thy side." — Now
to our point again !

Some men say, " What need have I to take a wife ?
I have no labour ; I have no children to break my
sleep at night ; I have the less expense by far. Why
should I undertake this travail ? If I fall ill, my
servants will care for me better than she would." Thus
thou sayest, and I say the contrary : for a woman
careth better for her husband than any other in the
world. And not him alone, but the whole house, and
all that needeth her care. Hear what Solomon saith :
" He that possesseth a good wife, beginneth a posses-
sion." — " Well," saith another, " I will not take a wife,
but rather keep a mistress ; then at least I shall be
cared for, and my house and my household." — Nay,
I tell thee : for thus the woman will be set on laying
up for herself alone : all her study wUl be of stealing ;
and, seeing things go ill, she careth not, but saith within
herself : " Why should I pain myself to look so closely
into every little matter ? When I am grown old, I
shall no longer be welcome in this house." . . . Where-
fore, I say, it is better to take a wife . . . and when
thou hast taken her, take heed to live as every good
Christian should live. Dost thou know who knoweth
this ? That man knoweth it who hath her, the good
housewife, that ruleth the whole household well. She
seeth to the granary, she keepeth it clean, that no
defilement may enter therein. She keepeth the jars
of oil, and noteth them well : — This jar is to use, and
that jar is to keep. She guardeth it, that naught may
fall therein, and that neither dog nor other beast come
nigh it. She setteth all her study and all her care that
the jars be not spilt. She ordereth the salt meats.

Wives and Widows. 615

first in the salting and afterward in the keeping, she
cleanseth them and ordereth them : — This here is to
sell, and that there is to keep. She seeth to the spin-
ning, and then to the making of linen cloth from the
yarn. She selleth the bran, and with the money she
buyeth yet more cloth. She giveth heed to the wine-
casks, lest their hoops should break or the wine leak at
any point. She provideth the household with all
things. She doth not as the hired servant, who stealeth
of all that passeth through her hands, and who careth not
for the things as they go away ; for the stuff is not her
own, therefore she is slow to pain herself and hath no
great love for them. If a man have neither wife nor
other to rule his household, knowest thou how it is
with the house ? I know, and I will tell thee. If he
be rich, and have plenty of grain, the sparrows and the
moles eat their fill thereof. It is not set in order, but
all so scattered abroad that the whole house is the
fouler for it. If he have oil, it is all neglected and
spilt ; when the jars break and the oil is spilled, he
casteth a little earth on the spot, and all is done ! And
his wine ? When at last he cometh to the cask, he
draweth the wine without further thought ; yet per-
chance the cask showeth a crevice behind, and the wine
wasteth. Or again a hoop or two is started, yet it may
go its way for him ; or the wine turneth to vinegar, or
becometh utterly corrupt. In his bed, knowest thou
how he sleepeth ? He sleepeth in a pit, even as the
sheets chance to have been tumbled upon the bed ;
for they are never changed until they are torn. Even
so in his dining-hall ; here on the ground are melon-
rinds, bones, peelings of salad, everjrbhing left lying
on the ground almost without pretence of sweeping.
Knowest thou how it is with his table ? The cloth is
laid with so little care that no man ever removeth it till
it be covered with filth. The trenchers are but spar-
ingly wiped, the dogs lick and wash them. His pipkins
are all foul with grease : go and see how they stand !
Knowest thou how such a man liveth ? even as a brute
beast. I say that it cannot be well for a man to live
thus alone — Ladies, make your curtsey to me. . . .

6i6 A Medieval Garner.

The next sermon is on the same text and the same subject : though
specially intended for the daughters, it is still more outspoken than its

My beloved, seeing that we showed yesterday the
love which ought to be between wife and husband, yet
we showed it not fully : for sometimes their love of
each other will become carnal and displeasing to God.
Wherefore we will speak this morning of the manner
in which each ought to love the other. . . . For
ignorance excuseth not from sin. ... So for example
of a priest who undertaketh to do his priestly work,
that is, to consecrate the Lord's Body, and knoweth
not the manner nor the words of consecration, how
wouldst thou hold this man excused ? Nay, verily,
he sinneth even in that he doeth not as he should.
Hear now what befel once upon a time ; for this is to
our present point. There were two priests who spake
together, and the one said unto the other, " How sayest
thou the words of consecration for Christ's Body ? "
" I (quoth the other) " I say Hoc est corpus metmi.^''
Then began they to dispute one with the other : " Thou
sayest not well " — " Nay, it is thou who sayest ill " —
and, as they disputed thus, there came another priest
to whom they told the whole matter, and who said :
" Neither the one saith well, nor the other, for the true
words are : Hoc est corpusso meusso " : and proceeded
by demonstration : " Thou seest how he saith corpusso,
wherefore the adjective should be meusso ; therefore
(I say) henceforth say ye nought else but : " Hoc est
corpusso meusso.''^ To which speech the others con-
sented not : wherefore they accorded together to ask
a parish priest hard by, going to him of set purpose
and laying the case before him. Then the parish priest
answering said : " Ha, what needeth all this ado ? I
go to it right simply ; I say an Ave Maria over the
Host ! " — Now, I ask thee, are those men excused ?
Seest thou not that they make men adore as God a
mere piece of bread ? Be sure that each of them com-
mitteth a most deadly sin, seeing that it was their
bounden duty to do after the manner which Jesus
Christ hath ordained to Holy Church. So I say also

Wives and Widows. 617

that, whatsoever a man doeth, it is his bounden duty
to know all that pertaineth to that thing. . . . But
the mother sinneth more than the daughter, if she
teach not as she ought. I say that the mother should
teach her under pain of mortal sin ; for otherwise she
setteth her daughter in grievous peril, together with
her husband. . . . Moreover, ye confessors, whenso-
ever such folk come into your hands, take heed that ye
admonish them shrewdly. For whence cometh this ?
— from not knowing that which they should know. In
old days, this sacrament was wont to be held in the
greatest devotion, and no girl went to her husband
without confession and communion. Men had much
more devotion to the sacraments than they have in
these days. . . .

Moreover I say, thou art not excused by thine evil
purpose : for there are some men and women who say
they love not to hear such things in public sermons. —
Why wilt thou not hear ? — Because I would fain do
after mine own fashion, and mine ignorance will hold
me excused — That is as the prophet David saith : " He
would not understand that he might do well : " he
would not hear, that he might do after his own will. —
Oh (quoth he) I do it not through unwillingness to do
well ! These things are not lawful matter for sermons,
therefore I will not hear — What ! how then, if they
are lawful to do, how (I say) is it not lawful for me to
admonish thee ? A hit, a palpable hit, in thy teeth ?
Knowest thou what ? Thou art like unto Madonna
Saragia.* Lo ! I will tell thee what befel once upon a
time in Siena. There was a lady called Madonna
Saragia, who loved well those great cherries of the Mark.
She had a vineyard that lay out there — you know, out
towards the convent of Munistero. One May, there-
fore, when her farmer-bailiff came to Siena, Madonna
Saragia asked him : " Hast thou then no cherries yet
in the vineyard ? " "0," quoth he, "I waited till
they should be a little riper." And she : " See then

* i.e. Mrs. Cherry. Such nicknames are still common in Italy : one
well-known citizen of a little Southern town has lately earned the
singular gastronomical sobriquet of Ceci (chick-peas).

6i8 A Medieval Garner.

that thou bring them on Saturday, or come not hither
to Siena again ! " The bailiff promised ; and on the
Saturday he took a great basket of cherries and came
to Siena and brought them to the lady. When there-
fore she saw him, she made much of him, and took the
basket. " Thrice welcome ! Oh, how much good thou
hast done me ! " and, taking the basket apart into her
private chamber, she began to eat the cherries by the
handful ; (they were fine and large, they were cherries
of the Mark !) To be brief, she took a skin-full of the
cherries. Then, when her husband came home to
dinner, the lady took a little basket of these fruit, and
laid them on the table, and said : " The bailiff is come,
and hath brought us a few cherries." And when the
meal was finished, she took these cherries and began to
eat thereof, in the bailiff's presence. And as she ate,
she took them one by one and made seven bites of
each cherry ; and in eating she said to the bailiff :
" What eating is there of cherries out in the country ? "
" Lady," quoth he, " we eat them as ye ate even now
in your room : we eat them by the handful ! " " Ugh !
la ! " cried she, " How saith the fellow ? fie on thee,
knave ! " " Lady," quoth he again, " we eat them even
as I have said." . . .

Hereupon the saint goes on to comment on Kom. i. 27, 1 Thess. iv. 4,
1 Cor. vii. 4, Exodus xx. 14, and Ezekiel xviii. 6.

283.— ^ctiietjal jFreetbinkcrs.

(Bern. Sen. 0pp. ed. de la Haye, vol. I, p. 106).

HE first pit of slime [Genesis XIV. 10] is
infidelity or default of faith. For very
many folk, considering the wicked life of
monks and friars and nuns and clergy, are
shaken by this — nay, oftentimes fail in
faith, and believe in naught higher than the roof of
their own house, not esteeming those things to be true
which have been written concerning our faith, but
believing them to have been written by the cozening
invention of man and not by God's inspiration ; having

Medieval Freethinkers. 619

no faith in the divine Scriptures or in the holy Doctors,
even as the Prophet testifieth concerning the unfaithful
Christians of this present time, saying : " Nor were
they counted faithful in his covenant." From hence
it followeth that they believe not in virtue, despise the
sacraments of the church, hold that the soul hath no
existence, neither shun vices nor respect virtues,
neither fear hell nor desire heaven, but cling with all
their hearts to transitory things and resolve that this
world shall be their paradise. All floweth from this
one source of infidelity ; since they cannot distinguish
betwixt the office of prelates and priests, and their vices.
For albeit the life of many clerics be full of crimes, yet
there resideth in them a holy and venerable authority,
as will appear in my sermon next following.*

* Compare the complaint of Benvenuto da Imola, who was a professor
at Bologna about the time of St. Bernardino's birth. Commenting on
Dante's mention of Priscian, (Inf. XV. 106) he says " he was a monk
and apostatized in order to gain greater fame and glory, as we often-
times see now in the case of many men who speak ill of the Faith that
they may seem great philosophers ; as though they believed that saying
of Galen, that the Christians have few men of any account because they
are involved in many errors. {Cornentum, ed. Lacaita, vol. I., p. 522).
Janssen's implication that such freethought was born of Bible transla-
tions in the later Middle Ages is demonstrably false.

Mathieu de Coussy, the continuator of Monstrelet's Chronicle, was
born about 1425 and died about 1480. He is a particularly conscien-
tious writer, and rises here and there to vivid description. The follow-
ing extract is from chap. LXXI. of the edition pubUshed by J. A. C.
Buchon, first as a supplement to Monstrelet and then independently in

284— calbot's Dcatb.

^HEN therefore the men of Bordeaux were
assembled in the presence of this Talbot,
they showed him how King Charles and
his army were already far entered, and
had over-run the countries of Guienne and
Bordeaux with great puissance of men-at-arms : then
they reminded him how that they had given over the

620 A Medieval Garner.

said town and city of Bordeaux on condition that he
should fight against the King of France and his puissance
if he came into the aforesaid country, and they sub-
mitted to him how he had said more than once, while
they were making the aforesaid treaty of surrender,
that he needed but ten thousand fighting men to make
head against the French armies. " Wherefore," said
they, " If you will keep your promise given when this
city made obeisance and subjection to you, now is the
hour and time for the accomplishment thereof. We
pray you go and raise the siege which the French have
laid to the town of Chatillon in Perigord." Talbot,
hearing these words, and recognising that they had
reason, showed no change of countenance at this
complaint, but answered them coolly enough, for he
was full of natural good sense and valiant in battle
as any knight that bore arms in those days ; thus then
he said to them : " We may let them come nearer
still ; yet be sure that, God willing, I will keep my
promise when I see due time and opportunity." Upon
which answer those of the town of Bordeaux showed a
face of discontent, misdoubting that this Talbot had
no great intention and will to do what he said ; nay,
they even began to murmur sore one with the other,
which was told to my lord Talbot ; whereof he was
inwardly troubled, and resolved forthwith to send for
all who were dispersed in the garrisons of towns and
fortresses that obeyed the English around Bordeaux,
and for the garrison of the town of Bordeaux itself.
He made such haste that within a few days he had
from eight to ten thousand fighting men gathered
together. Then on St. Mary Magdalene's Day, which
fell on a Monday that year (1453), he set out from
the good city of Bordeaux with his company, and lay
that same night at a place called Libourne, five leagues
distant from Bordeaux and three leagues from the

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