English Literature



Three principal bodies of texts discussed marriage in late medieval Europe: theology, law, and literature. Theologians focused on marriage not only as a socially sanctioned state of mutual love between a man and a woman, but also as many possible relationships among the individual, the Church, and Christ. Hence, earthly marriage, and particularly the wife, ranked lower on a scale below other possible marriages, the married woman less favored than a virgin bride of Christ. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 set the prohibition against marriage between first cousins, but this tells us little of the reality of people’s abilities and desires to choose. The same council, however, accepted the idea that free consent was necessary, but in England in the later Middle Ages the king and lords frequently imposed a marriage tax on tenants who married people out of their feudal property or who simply wanted freely to choose their own partners. The legal implications of the marriage bond were different for men and women. In general marriage was a disadvantage for a woman, who became a feme covert; without special provisions, she was legally “covered” by her spouse, who gained control over land and goods. Geoffrey de la Tour Landry, a knight from the province of Maine-et- Loire, composed his Book for his daughters in 1371–2.

Geoffrey states in his prologue that, having composed a book of instruction (now lost) for his sons, he decided to make his book for his daughters because he still remembers his wife who died some twenty years before, he has seen his fellow courtiers deceiving women with their words and deeds, and he wishes his daughters to “turne to good and worshipe above all ertheli thinges.” He states that he employed two of his priests and clerks to compile tales of good and evil women for his daughters” instruction from the Bible, histories of kings, and chronicles; he adds examples from his own life as well as commentary. Over twenty French manuscripts of the book survive. Two English translations remain: a mid-fifteenth century manuscript and Caxton’s translation from 1483–4 (from which the following excerpt and that in “Sumptuary,” p. 215, are taken). Geoffrey’s Book is a frequently transfixing misogynist text of moral prescription and exempla. Dives and Pauper consists of a fictionalized dialogue between the wealthy and learned Dives and the authorial poor wandering preacher Pauper. It is a long didactic treatise on the ten commandments written by an unknown friar in the first quarter of the fifteenth century and survives as a whole or in part in eleven manuscripts and three early printings. The majority of the text concerns the ways in which Christian doctrine intersects with human worldly practices (frequently legal practices). Parts of the text take up issues of interest to Wycliffite writers and their opponents. The following excerpt (and the other, in “Sumptuary,” p. 215) is from chapter 4 on adultery, the subject of the seventh commandment. How men ought to love after his estate and degree. “What saye yow, lady,1 wold ye have kept them so straitly that they shold not take somme plesaunce more to somme than to the other?” “Syre, I wylle not that they have or take ony plesaunce of them that ben of lower estate or degree than they be of, that is to wete, that no woman unwedded shalle not sette her love upon no man of lower or lasse degree than she is of. For yf she tooke hym, her parentes and frendes shold hold her lassed and hyndered.2 These, whiche loven suche folke, done ageynste theyre worship and honoure.

For men ought to desyre ne coveyte nothynge so moche in this world as worship and the frendship of the world and of hir frendes, the whiche is lost as soone as she draweth oute her self oute of the governement and fro the counceyll of them, as I myght telle, yf I wold, an ensample of many whiche therfore ben dyffamed and hated of theyr parents and frendes. “And therfore, syre, as I theyr moder charge and deffende them: that they take no playsaunce,3 ne that in no wyse sette theyr love to none of lower degree than they be come of, ne also to none of hyhe estate, whiche they may not have to their lord. For the grete lordes shalle not take them to theyr wyves, but alle theyr lovynge loke and semblaunt, they do it for to deceyve them and for to have the delytes and playsaunce of theyr bodyes, and for to brynge them in to the folye of the world.” How wedded wymmen, whiche have sette theyr love to some of lower degree than they be of, are not worthy to be callyd wymmen. “Also, they whiche putte and sette theyr love on thre maner of folke – that is to wete, wedded men, prestes, and monkes, and as to servauntes and folke of noughte – these maner of wymmen, whiche take to theyr peramours and love suche folke, I hold them of none extyme ne valewe but that they be more gretter harlottes than they that ben dayly at the bordell. For many wymmen of the world done that synne of lechery but only for nede and poverte, or els by cause they have ben deceyved of hit by false counceylle of bawdes. But alle gentylle women whiche have ynough to lyve on, the whiche make theyre peramours or lovers suche maner of folke as before is sayd, it is by the grete ease wherin they be and by the brennynge lecherye of theyr bodyes. For they knowe wel that, after the lawe of theyr maryage, they may not have for theyr lordes ne to be theyr husbondes men of the chirche ne other of no valewe. This love is not for to recovere ony worship but alle dishonour and shame.” How hit is almesse4 to enhaunce a man in to grete valour. “At the leste, syth ye wylle not graunte ne accorde that youre doughters love no man peramours as longe as they shalle be unwedded, please it yow to suffre that whanne they shall be wedded, they may take somme plesaunce of love for to hold and behave them self the more gaye and joyefull, and for the better knowe theyr behavynge and maner emonge folke of worship.

And as before this tyme I have sayd to yow, it were to them grete welthe and worship to make a man of none extyme ne of valewe to become of grete valour.” The answere of the lady of the towre. “Sire, to thys I ansuere yow: I wylle well and am content that they make good chere to all worshipfulle men, and more to somme than to the other, that is to wete, to them of gretter name and more gentyl, or els better men of theyr persones, and after that they bere to them worship and honour, and that they synge and daunce before them honourably. But as for to love peramours sythe they shall be wedded – withoute it be of suche love as men ought to bere unto folke of worshippe – for to love and worshippe them after that they be worthy and of valour, and whiche have had grete payne and travaylle to gete and acquere glorye and worshyp by theyr valyaunce in armes, these must be loved, doubted,5 served, and honoured withoute havynge in them ony plesaunce, sauf only for the bounte of them. But to saye and hold hit good that a wedded woman shold love and have a peramour, ne take the othe and feythe of none, to thende that they be theyr lovers and peramours, ne also to gyve also to gyve their feith and othe to none, I trowe and wene certaynly that no lady ne damoysell, wedded ne woman of other estate, shall not put her estate and worship in this balaunce . . .” DIVES: Whan gaf God lawys of matrimonye, and what lawys gaf he? PAUPER: Whan God hadde mad Adam, he put a gret slep in hym and in his slep he took out on of his rybbys and fylde up the place with flesch, and of that rybbe he made Eve and broughte hir to Adam. Than Adam awooc and, as God inspyred hym, he tolde the lawys of wedlac and seyde thus: “This bon is now of myn bonys and this flesch of myn flesch, for this thing man shal forsakyn fadyr and modyr, and clevyn to his wyf, and ther schul ben two in on flesch,” Genesis 26. In whiche wordys, whan he seide that man for his wyf schulde forsakyn fadyr and moodir, and clevyn to his wif, he schewyd the sacrament of trewe love and unyte that owith to ben atwoxsyn7 housebonde and wyf, and be the same wordis he schewyd what feith owith to ben atwosxyn hem, for he shal clevyn to hys wyf and medlyn with hyr and with non othir, and she with hym and with non othir. And in that he seyde that ther shuldyn ben two in on flesch he schewyd that thei shuldyn medlyn togedere principaly to bryngyn forth childryn to Godys worchepe, for in her child, housebond and wyf ben on flesch and on blood. Also, in that he seyde that the housebonde schulde clevyn to his wyf, he defendyth8 fornicacion and avouterie. And in that he seyde in the singuler numbre – “to hys wyf ” and nout “to his wyfys” – he defendyd bygamye, that a man schulde nout han to wyfys togedere ne on woman to house-boundys togedere. And in that he seyde that thei two schuldyn ben in on flesch he defendyd sodomye. And also be the same wordis he schewith that iche of hem hat power ovyr otheris body and non of hem may conteynyn but thei ben bothin therto of on assent. DIVES: Why made God woman mor of the rybbe of Adam than of anothir bon? PAUPER: For the rybbe is nexst the herte, in tokene that God made hyr to ben mannys felawe in love and his helpere. And as the rybbe is nexst the herte of alle bonys, so schulde the wyf ben nexst in love of all women and of alle men.

God made nout woman of the foot to ben mannys thral ne he made hyr nout of the hefd to ben hys maystir but of his syde and of his rybbe to ben his felawe in love and helper at nede. But whan Eve synnyd, than was woman maad soget to man, that the wyf schulde ben rewlyd be hyr housebonde and dredyn hym and servyn hym as felaw in love and helper at nede and as nest solas9 in sorwe, nout as thral and bonde in vyleyn servage, for the housebonde owyth to han his wyf in reverence and worchepe in that they ben bothin on flesch and on blood. DIVES: Why made nout God woman be hyrself of the erde as he dede Adam? PAUPER: For to moryn10 her love togedere and also to gevyn woman materie of11 lownesse. First, for moryng of love, for in that woman is part of mannys body man must lovyn hyr as hys owyn flesch and blood, and she must also lovyn man as hyr begynnyng and as hyr flesch and hyr blood. Also, she owyth takyn gret materie of lownesse and thynkyn that man is hir perfeccioun and hyr begynnynge, and han man in reverence as hyr perfeccioun, as hyr principal, as hyr begynnyng, and hyr firste in ordre of kende. God made al mankende of on, for he wolde that al mankende schulde ben on in charite as they comyn al of on. DIVES: Wether is avouterie gretere synne in the man than in the woman? PAUPER: Comounly it is mor synne in the man than in the woman, for the heyere degre, the harder is the fal and the synne mor grevous. Also, man is mor myghty be weye of kende to with-stondyn and hat mor skyl and resoun wherby he may withstondyn and bewar of the fendis gyle. And in that he is mad maystir and governour of woman to governyn hyr in vertue and kepyn hyr from vycis, if he falle in vycis and in avouterie mor than woman, he is mychil to blame and worthi to ben reprovyd schamfully. Therfor, Sent Austyn, libro De decem cordis, undirnemyth12 housebondys that fallyn in avouterie and seith to iche of hem in this maner: “God seith to the that thu schal don non lecherie, that is to seye, thu schalt medelyn with no woman but with thin wyf. Thu askyst this of thin wyf, that she medele with non but with the, and thu wilt nout yeldyn this ne kepyn this to thin wyf.

And ther thu aughtyst ben aforn thin wyf in vertu thu fallys[t] doun undir the byr of lecherie. Thu wilt that thin wyf be ovyrcomere of lecherye and han the maystry of the fend, and thu wilt ben ovyrcomyn as a coward and lyn don in lecherye. And noutwithstondyng that thu art hefd of thin wyf, yet thin wyf goth aforn the to God, and thu that art hefd of thin wif gost bakward to helle. Man,” seith he, “is hefd of woman,13 and therfor in what houshold the woman lyvyth betere than the man, in that houshold hongyth the hefd donward for, sith man is hefd of woman, he owith to lyvyn betere than woman and gon aforn his wif in alle goode dedys that she mon suhyn14 here housebounde and folwyn hyr hefd. The hefd of iche houshold is the housebonde, and the wyf is the body. Be cours of kende, thedir that the hefd ledyth, thedir schulde the body folwyn. Whi wil than the hefd that is the housebounde gon to lecherie and he wil nout that his body, his wyf, folwe? Why wil the man gon thedyr whydir he wil nout that his wif folwe?”15 And a lytyl aftir in the same booc Sent Austyn seith thus: “Day be day pleyntis ben maad of mannys lecherie although her wyfys dur nout plenyyn hem on her housebondys. Lecherie of men is so bold and so custumable16 that it is now takyn for a lawe insomychil that men tellyn her wyfys that lecherie and avouterie is leful to men but nout to women,” thus seith Sent Austyn. DIVES: And sumtyme it is herd and wust that wyfys ben takyn lychynge with her servans and brout to court afor the juge with mychyl schame. But that ony housebounde is so brout to court aforn the juge for he lay with ony of his women, it is seldam seyn. PAUPER: “And though,” as seith Sent Austyn in the same booc, “it is as gret a synne in the housebonde as in the wif and somdel mor, but forsothe,” seith he, “it is nout the trewthe of God but the schrewidnesse of man that makyth man lesse gylty than woman in the same synne.” Men ben nout so oftyn takyn in avouterie ne punchyd for avouterie as women ben, nout for thei ben lesse gylty but for that thei ben mor gylty, and mor myghty, and mor sley to meyntethin her synne, and nyh iche of hem confortith othir in his synne.

Men ben witnessis, jugis, and doerys to punchyn avouterie in woman. And for thei ben ovyrdon17 gylty in avouterye, therfor thei travaylyn nyh alle with on assent to meyntethin her lecherie. In woman is seldam seyn avouterie, and therfor it is wol slaundrous whan it fallyt and hard punchyd. But in men it is so comoun that ther is unethis ony slaundre therof. Women dur nout spekyn agenys the lecherye of men, and men wyl nout spekyn to reprovyn lecherye of man for thei ben so mychil gylty . . . DIVES: Women mon betere ben chast than men for thei han mychil kepyng18 upon hem. The lawe byndith hem to chaste. Her housebondis ben besy to kepyn hem, and harde lawys ben ordeynyd to punchyn hem if they don omys. PAUPER: To this answerith Sent Austyn in the same booc and seith thus: “Mychil kepynge makith woman chast, and manhod schulde makyn man chast. To woman is ordeynyd mychil kepynge, for she is mor frele. Woman is aschamyd for hyr housebound to don omys, but thu art nout aschamyd for Crist to don omys. Thu art mor fre than the woman for thu art strangere and lythlyere,19 thu myght ovyr-comyn the flesch and the fend if thu wilt, and therfor God hat betakyn the to the. But on woman is mychil kepyng of hir housebonde, dredful lawys, good norture, gret schamfastnesse, and god principal; and thu, man, hast only God abovyn the. Thin wif fleth lecherie for dred and schame of the, for dred of the lawe, for good norture, and pryncipaly for God. But for alle these thu kepist the nout chast ne thu levyst nout thin lecherie neyther for dred of God, ne for Godis lawe, ne for schame of the world, ne for schame of thin wyf to whom thu art boundyn to ben trewe, ne thu wilt levyn it for no good norture but lyvyn as an harlot and usyn harlotis manerys; thu art nout aschamyd of thin synne,” seith Sent Austyn, “for so many men fallyn therynne. The schrewidnesse of man is now so gret that men ben mor aschamyd of chaste than of lecherie. Manquellerys,20 thevys, perjurerys, fals witnessis, raveynouris,21 and false men ben abhominable and hatyd amongis the peple, but hoso wil lyn be his woman and ben a bold lechour, he that is lovyd, he that is preysyd, and alle the woundis of his soule turnyn into gamyn. And if ony man be so hardy to seyn that he is chast and trewe to his wif, and it be knowyn that he be swiche, he is aschamyd to comyn amongis men that ben nout lyk hym in manerys, for thei schul japyn hym, and scornyn hym, and seyn that he is no man, for manys schrewydnesse is now so gret that ther is no man holdyn a man but he be ovyrcomyn with lecherie, and he that ovyrcomyth lecherie and kepit hym chast, he is letyn22 no man.” These ben the wordis of Sent Austyn in the same booc . . .23 [T]he lawe put many cas in whyche the housebounde may nout accusyn his wyf of lecherie; first, if he be gylty in the same . . . Also, if he geve hyr occasion to don fornicacioun be withheldynge of dette of his body . . . Also, if she be defylyd be strencthe and gret violence agenys hyr wil . . . Also, if she wene that her housebond be ded . . . And if she be weddyd to anothir wenyng that hyr housebound be ded, whan he comyth hom, she must forsakyn the secunde housebonde and wendyn agen to the firste; and but she forsake the secunde onon as she knowith that hyr firste housebounde is on lyve ellys she fallith in avouterye and hir firste housebonde may accusyn hyr and forsakyn hyr. Also, if she be deceyvyd and medelyth with anothir wenynge that it wer hyr housebonde . . .

Also, if he knewe hyr lecherie and suffryth hyr in hyr synne and medelyth with hyr aftir that he knowyth hyr synne or forgevy[th] it hyr and reconcylith hyr to hym, than may he nout accusyn hyr . . . Also, if hyr housebonde put hyr to don omys . . . Also, if an hethene man forsake his hethene wif and she be weddyt to anothir hethene man and aftir thei ben bothin turnyd to Cristene feith, than is he bondyn to takyn hyr agen but she felle in ony othir fornicacioun, nout-wythstondynge that she be knowyn flechly of the secunde house-bonde . . . DIVES: Reson and holy writ cachyn me to grantyn that bothin avouterie and symple fornicacion ben wol grevous synnys, but mor grevous is avouterie, and fayn Y wolde kepyn me from bothin synnys. But women ben the fendis snaris and so temptyn men to lecherie that it is wol hard to me for the kepyn me. “Adam, Sampsonem, Petrum, David, and Salomonem femina decepit; quis modo tutus erit?” “Woman deceyvyd Adam and Sampson, Petir, Davyd, and Salomon; ho may than ben sykyr from womanys gyle?”24 PAUPER: Many man hat ben deceyvyd be wyckyd women mor be his owyn folye than be deceyt of woman, but many mo women han ben deceyvyd be the malyce of men than evere wer men deceyvyd be malyce of woman. Therfor, the woman lechour is clepyd the snare of the fendis that huntyn aftir mannys soule, for Salomon seith: “Inveni amario-rem morte mulierem, etc.,” “Y have foundyn woman mor byttyr than deth.

She is the snare of the hunterys, hyr herte is a net and hyr hondis ben harde bondys. He that plesith God schal ascapyn hyr, but the synful man schal be takyn of hyr,” Ecclesiastes 725 But men ben clepyd nout only the snare of the fend but also thei ben clepyd his net sprad abrod on the hyl of Thabor for to takyn many at onys, Hosea 526. Mannys malyce is clepyd a net sprad abrod on an heye hil for it is opyn and boldeliche don, nout in a fewe but in manye, and therfor whan holy wryt reprovyt the malyce of men, he spekith in the plurer numbre as to manye, but whan he reprovyth the malyce of woman he spekyt in the singuler numbre as to fewe in tokene that ther ben mor schrewis of men than of women and comounly mor malyce in men than in women, althou sum woman be wol malicious. Fyghtynge, roberye, manslaute, opyn lecherie, glotonye, gyle, falsnesse, perjurie, tretourie, fals contr[y]vynge, and swyche othir horrible synnys regnyn mor in man than in woman. This fals excusacioun that men so excusyn her synne be the malyce of woman began in Adam and les27 Adam and al mankende, for synfullyche he excusyd hys synne be woman whan God undirnam28 hym of hys synne and putte woman in defaute; and also he put God in defaute that made woman and answeryd wol proudlyche, as men don these dayys, and seide to God: “Woman that thu geve to me to ben myn felawe gaf me of the tre, and Yeet therof,”29 as ho30 seye: “Haddist thu nout govyn hyr to me to ben myn felawe, Y schulde nout a synnyd.”

And so noutwithstondynge that he was mor in defaute than woman, yet he wolde nout knowlechyn ony defaute but he putte woman and God principaly that made woman in defaute. DIVES: Hou was Adam mor in defaute than woman? PAUPER: For to hym pryncipaly God gaf the precept that he schulde nout etyn of that tre, and Eve knew it nout but be Adam. Woman was temptyd be the fend wondirfolyche in the neddere, whyche wente that tyme righth up and hadde a face lyk a woman, as seith Bede and the Maystyr of Storiis,31 and she was deceyvyd with his fayre behestis and his false slye speche, for he hyghte32 hyr that thei schuldyn nout deyyn but ben as Goddis, connyng good and wyckyd. Adam hadde non temptacioun fro outward but a symple word of his wyf that profryd hym the appyl, for we fyndyn nout that she seyde to hym ony deceyvable word. And therfor sith man was forbodyn of Godys mouth, and she nout but be man, and man hadde lesse temptacioun than woman and therto in nothing wolde accusyn hymself ne yeldyn hym gylty but putte defaute al in woman and in God, therfor he synnyd mor than woman, for woman yald hyr gylty,33 but she askyd no merci. She made non swyche excusacion but in gret party yald hyr gylty in that she seyde, “The neddere hat deceyvyd me.”

34 For in that she knowlechyd that she was deceyvyd, she knowlechid that she hadde don omys, and unwiselyche, and othirwyse than sche aughte a don. And for that woman lowyd hyr and knowlechyd hyr unwisdam and hyr folye, therfor God putte in woman that tyme onon hope of our savacioun whan he seyde to the neddere: “Y schal puttyn enmyte atwoxsyn the and woman, and atwoxsyn thi seed and hyr seed, and she schal brekyn thin hefd.”35 That was the fend, whyche was hefd and ledere of the neddere that tyme. The seed of the fend ben wyckyd warkys and wyckyd folc, to whyche God seyde in the gospel: “Vos ex patre diabolo estis,” John 8, “Ye ben of the fadir the fend.”36 The seed of woman gostlyche ben hyr goode dedys, with whyche the fend and the fendis lymys han gret envye, and comounly women wlatyn37 mor horriblete of synne than don men. And be our lady, blyssyd mote she ben, the fendys power is dystryyd. Also, the seed of woman was Crist, born of the maydyn Marie withoutyn part of man, and so ther was nevere man propyrly seed of woman but Crist alone, and alwey is enmyte betwoxsyn Crist and the fend and his seed . . . And so ben men yit these days ovyrcomyn with lecherye withoutyn womanys companye and withoutyn doyng of women for, as Crist seyth in the gospel, “Hoso loke on a woman in wil to don omys with hyr, though she thinke nout on hym, he that doth lecherye”;38 and if he handele hyr, or smelle hyr, or speke to hyr, or go to hyr, or seke be whilys and sleyghthis to han his lust of hyr, thou the woman consente nout to hym and though he be lettyd of his wyckyd wil, yit is he gylty in lecherye and doth agenys this comandement of God: “Non mechaberys.”39 Men lechourys gon and rydyn fro town to town to getyn women at her lust. Thei sekyn the women and nout the women hem. They castyn many wylys to getyn womanys assent in synne.

Men comounly ben warkeris and begynnerys of lecherie, and than wether the woman assente or nout assente, yit the man is gylty. And for oftyntyme it fallit that whan men wendyn ben sekyr of the womanys assent, than the woman wil nout assentyn for dred of God; and if she assentyd aforn and hyghte the man to folwyn his lust and aftir repentyth hyr and withdrawith hyr from hys wyckyd companye, than schal that lechourys man diffamyn al women and seyn that thei ben false and deceyvable, for swyche lechouris spekyn mest vylenye of women for they mon nout han her foul lust of hem at wille. And for thei mon nout defylyn hem with her body, they defylyn hem with her tunge and spekyn of hem wol evele and diffamyn hem falslyche and procuryn to hem the harm that they mon . . . DIVES: And, though, many woman wil assentyn to lust of the flesch wol lyghthlych if it be profryd. PAUPER: That is soth, but women be nout so redy to assentyn as men ben to profryn it, and he that profryth it and begynnyth, he assentyth first and is mor in defaute. DIVES: Thu excusist mychil women and accusist men. PAUPER: Y accuse non good man but wyckyd men, lechouris, ne Y excuse no wyckyd woman but goode women that ben falslyche defamyd of lecherie, nout only in here personys but in her kende generaly, for the proude malyce of man diffamyth unskylfolyche40 the kende of woman and, as Adam dede, put his synne on woman and nout wil accusyn hys owyn malyce to getyn mercy.

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