Item 4, How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter


1 With neither kin nor strangers make any chatter (gossip)


Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases.

Title No title or incipit. Mustanoja prefers the title “The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter,” and elsewhere the poem is occasionally cited as “What the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter” or “What the Goodwife Taught Her Daughter.” The title used here is that first given to the poem by Furnivall, on the basis of line 3.

22 With sybbe ne fremde make no jangelyng. Complaints about layfolk talking in church were common in clerical writings. John Mirk instructs priests to command their parishioners to be quiet once the service begins: “Thenne bydde hem leve here mony wordes, / Here ydel speche, and nyce bordes” (Instructions for Parish Priests, lines 266–67). As Salisbury notes in her edition of this text, the ultimate origin of these complaints is the injunction against women speaking in church in 1 Corin­thians 14:35 (Trials and Joys, p. 228, n. 22).

27 If any man profer thee to wede. This passage hints at characteristically middle-class courtship, not frequently described elsewhere. Aristocratic marriages were typ­ically arranged, often from childhood.

46 Change not thi countenans with grete laughter. Salisbury points to the similar injunc­tion of Chaucer’s Parson: “A wyf sholde eek be mesurable in lookynge and in ber­ynge and in lawghynge, and discreet in alle hire wordes and hire dedes” (CT X[I]936; Trials and Joys, pp. 228–29, n. 46).

58 Ne hyderward ne thederward. Other conduct poems contain similar instructions about keeping a steady gaze, not looking around too wildly, and not staring at the ground. See Phillips, “Bodily Walls, Windows, and Doors.”

61 gase. The meaning of this word is uncertain; it may mean either “goose” or “gad-about,” but certainly folly is implied.

65 the taverne. Taverns and alehouses were the subject of considerable anxieties about male and female debauchery. For an overview (that includes a brief men­tion of this text), see Hanawalt, “Host, the Law, and the Ambiguous Space of Medieval London Taverns.”

72 And drounke to be. Rate has strengthened this injunction; other texts only declare being drunk ofte (often) to be shameful.

74 coke schetyng. This entertainment involved either throwing stones or (more likely) shooting arrows at a cock tied to a stake (see Mustanoja, Good Wife, pp. 226–28). Presumably, this sport was a primarily lower-class entertainment, as wrestling was.

130 And sett thi men therto. Mustanoja emends to mené, an emendation adopted by Salisbury. Lines 134 and 151 suggest that this line should indeed refer to house­hold servants in general, both men and women. Rate or his copy-text omits four lines on the discipline of children, present in London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 853:

And if thi children been rebel, and wole not them lowe,
If ony of hem mysdooth, nouther banne hem ne blowe,
But take a smert rodde and bete hem on a rowe
Til thei crei mercy and be of her gilt aknowe.
humble themselves
            neither curse nor rage
in a row
aware of their guilt
150 Thy bred thou bake. Rate seems to have devised this suggestion, as it does not ap­pear in other texts. Bread was the staple of the medieval diet, consumed at every meal and used for trenchers (plates). Though various laws attempted to fix the price, size, and quality of bread, this line suggests that in times of scarcity bakers were tempted to raise prices. Alternatively, the risk alluded to here may be that household servants will steal flour in times of scarcity, thus requiring more direct supervision.

154 many handys make lyght werke. Proverbial. See Whiting H62.

173 And God fro thee thi chyld take. Infant mortality rates in the Middle Ages were considerably higher than in most industrialized nations today, and the sentiment expressed here is not a shocking one; compare lines 9–16 of The Lament of Mary (item 30).

181 a doughter of age. Canon law allowed women to marry at fourteen, but most En­glish women married between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five; for a discussion of the sense here, see Riddy, “Mother Knows Best,” pp. 81–83.

195 Whether thei byde or thei do wende. As Riddy points out, this line suggests that the servants in question may be serving on short-term contracts, part of a fluid ur­ban labor market (“Mother Knows Best,” p. 68).

200 techynge I hade of my modour. Women’s knowledge was often imagined as orally transmitted from one generation to the next, a counterpoint to male textuality. This idea often took the form of misogynist anxiety (as men imagined women passing on secrets for sexual dominance and control), but mothers could also be imagined as the sources of common sense and basic spiritual wisdom.

204 thus seys the letter. “A child is better unborn than untaught (or unbeaten)” is pro­verbial. See Whiting C200. Thus the attribution to written authority is itself a kind of empty tag, “as wise men say.”

208a AMEN QUOD RATE. Underneath this colophon, in the bottom margin, are drawings of a smiling fish and a stem of flowers.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

8 schall wyrche. MS: sh wyrche. Space left for omitted part of word.

50 lowd. MS: low.

52 betyde. MS: betytde.

55 blame. MS: blane.

74 schetyng. MS: fyghtyng schetyng (fyghtyng is marked for deletion).

75 strumpet. MS: strmpet.

83 every man. MS: ever man.

94 Men ther honour. MS: Me ther honour.

110 werkys. MS: werky.

113 ydelleschype. MS: ydelle schy.

114 these werkys. MS: thus werkys.

116 when thou may. MS: whe thou may.

132 thou hast. MS: thou thow hast.

138 quite his mede. MS: quite is mede.
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Item 4, How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter












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Lyst and lythe a lytell space,
I schall you telle a prety cace:
How the gode wyfe taught hyr doughter
To mend hyr lyfe and make her better.
“Doughter, and thou wylle be a wyfe,
Wysely to wyrch in all thi lyfe,
Serve God and kepe thy chyrche,
And myche the better thou schall wyrche.
To go to the chyrch lette for no reyne,
And that schall helpe thee in thy peyn.
Gladly loke thou pay thy tythes,
Also thy offeringys loke thou not mysse.
Of pore men be thou not lothe,
Bot gyff thou them both mete and clothe;
And to pore folke be thou not herde,
Bot be to them thyn owen stowarde;
For wher that a gode stowerde is,
Wantys seldom any ryches.
When thou arte in the chyrch, my chyld,
Loke that thou be bothe meke and myld,
And bydde thi bedys aboven all thing.
With sybbe ne fremde make no jangelyng;1
Laughe thou to scorn nother olde ne yonge;
Be of gode beryng and of gode tonge.
In thi god beryng begynnes thi worschype —
My dere doughter, of this take kepe.
If any man profer thee to wede,
A curtas ansuer to hym be seyde,
And schew hym to thy frendys alle.
For anything that may befawle,
Syt not by hym, ne stand thou nought
In sych place ther synne mey be wroght.
What man that thee doth wedde with rynge,
Loke thou hym love aboven all thinge.
If that it forteyn thus with thee,
That he be wroth and angery be,
Loke thou mekly ansuer hym,
And meve hym nother lyth ne lymme,
And that schall sclake hym of hys mode;
Than schall thou be hys derlyng gode.
Fayre wordys wreth do slake;
Fayre wordys wreth schall never make;
Ne fayre wordys brake never bone,
Ne never schall in no wone.
Be fayre of semblant, my der doughter;
Change not thi countenans with grete laughter,
And wyse of maneres loke thou be gode.
Ne for no tayle change thi mode,
Ne fare not as thou a gyglot were,
Ne laughe thou not lowd, be thou therof sore.
Luke thou also gape not to wyde,
For anything that may betyde.
Suete of speche loke that thow be,
Trow in worde and dede — lerne this of me.
Loke thou fle synne, vilony, and blame,
And se ther be no man that seys thee any schame.
When thou goys in the gate, go not to faste,
Ne hyderward ne thederward thi hede thou caste,
No grete othes loke thou suere;
Byware, my doughter, of syche a maner.
Go not as it were a gase
Fro house to house to seke the mase.
Ne go thou not to no merket
To sell thi thryft; bewer of itte.
Ne go thou nought to the taverne,
Thy godnes for to selle therinne.
Forsake thou hym that taverne hanteth,
And all the vices that therinne bethe.
Wherever thou come at ale or wyne,
Take not to myche, and leve be tyme,
For mesure therinne, it is no herme,
And drounke to be, it is thi schame.
Ne go thou not to no wrastlyng,
Ne yit to no coke schetyng,
As it were a strumpet other a gyglote,
Or as a woman that lyst to dote.
Byde thou at home, my doughter dere,
Thes poyntys at me I rede thou lere;
And wyrke thi werke at nede,
All the better thou may spede.
I suere thee, doughter, be heven kyng,
Mery it is of al thyng.
Aqueynte thee not with every man
That inne the strete thou metys than;
Thof he wold be aqueynted with thee,
Grete hym curtasly and late hym be.
Loke by hym not longe thou stond,
That thorow no vylony thi hert fond.
All the men be not trew
That fare speche to thee can schew.
For no covetys no giftys thou take;
Bot thou wyte why, sone them forsake.
For gode women with gyftys
Men ther honour fro them lyftys,
Thofe that thei were all trew
As any stele that bereth hew;
For with ther giftys men them overgone,
Thof thei were trew as ony ston.
Bounde thei be that giftys take;
Therfor thes giftys thou forsake.
In other mens houses make thou no maystry,
For dred no vylony to thee be spye.
Loke thou chyd no wordys bolde
To myssey nother yonge ne olde;
For and thou any chyder be,
Thy neyghbors wyll speke thee vylony.
Be thou not to envyos,
For drede thi neyghbors wyll thee curse.
Envyos hert hymselve fretys,
And of gode werkys hymselve lettys.
Houswyfely wyll thou gon
On werkedeys in thine awne wone.
Pryde, rest, and ydelleschype:
Fro these werkys, thou thee kepe.
And kepe thou welle thy holy dey,
And thy God worschype when thou may,
More for worschype than for pride,
And styfly in thy feyth thou byde.
Loke thou were no ryche robys,
Ne counterfyte thou no ladys;
For myche schame do them betyde,
That lese ther worschipe thorow ther pride.
Be thou, doughter, a houswyfe gode,
And ever more of myld mode.
Wysely loke thi hous and meneyé;
The beter to do thei schall be.
Women that be of yvell name,
Be ye not togeder in fame.
Loke what most nede is to don,
And sett thi men therto ryght sone.
That thing that is befor don dede,
Redy it is when thou hast nede.
And if thy lord be fro home,
Lat not thy meneyé idell gone.
And loke thou wele who do hys dede;
Quyte hym therafter to his mede.
And thei that wyll bot lytell do,
Therafter thou quite his mede also.
A grete dede if thou have to done,
At the tone ende thou be ryght sone.
And if that thou fynd any fawte,
Amend it sone and tarrye note.
Mych thyng behoven them
That gode housold schall kepyn.
Amend thy hous or thou have nede,
For better after thou schall spede.
And if that thy nede be grete,
And in the country corne be stryte,
Make an houswyfe on thyselve:
Thy bred thou bake for houswyfys helthe.
Amonge thi servantys if thou stondyn,
Thy werke it schall be soner done.
To helpe them sone thou sterte,
For many handys make lyght werke.
Bysyde thee if thy neghborys thryve,
Therfor thou make no stryfe,
Bot thanke God of all thi gode
That he send thee to thy fode.
And than thow schall lyve gode lyfe,
And so to be a gode houswyfe.
At es he lyves that awe no dette —
It is no les, withouten lette.
Syte not to longe uppe at even,
For drede with ale thou be oversene.
Loke thou go to bede bytyme;
Erly to ryse is fysyke fyne.
And so thou schall be, my dere chyld,
Be welle dysposed, both meke and myld.
For all ther es may thei not have,
That wyll thryve and ther gode save.
And if it thus thee betyde,
That frendys falle thee fro on every syde,
And God fro thee thi chyld take,
Thy wreke onne God do thou not take;
For thyselve it wyll undo,
And all thes that thee longys to.
Many one for ther awne foly
Spyllys themselve unthryftyly.
Loke, doughter, no thing thou lese,
Ne thi housbond thou not desples.
And if thou have a doughter of age,
Pute her sone to maryage;
For meydens thei be lonely,
And no thinge syker therby.
Borow thou not, if that thou meye,
For dred thi neybour wyll sey naye.
Ne take thou nought to fyrst,
Bot thou be inne more bryste.
Make thee not ryche of other mens thyng,
The bolder to spend be on ferthyng.
Borowyd thing muste nedys go home,
If that thou wyll to heven gone.
When thi servantys have do thi werke,
To pay ther hyre loke thou be smerte,
Whether thei byde or thei do wende;
Thus schall thou kepe them ever thi frende.
And thus thi frendys wyll be glade
That thou dispos thee wyslye and sade.
Now I have taught thee, my dere doughter,
The same techynge I hade of my modour.
Thinke theron both nyght and dey,
Forgette them not if that thou may.
For a chyld unborne were better
Than be untaught — thus seys the letter.
Therfor, Allmyghty God inne trone
Spede us all bothe even and morn,
And bryng us to thy hyghe blysse,
That never more fro us schall mysse.”
Listen and attend a little while; (see note)
pleasant account

if you will

do not be hindered by any rain

food and clothing

Seldom is wanting

say your prayers
(see note)

good behavior; respect
take heed
offers; (see note)

introduce him
No matter what may happen

where sin might be done

it happens to you

cause him to stir neither body nor limb
slake his anger

calm wrath

in any place
mild of expression
(see note)

lest you be sorry for that; (t-note)


shame; (t-note)
says shameful things to you
you go
Nor look around everywhere; (see note)

as if you were a foolish person; (see note)
idle diversion

To lose your earnings
(see note)
to lose
are therein

leave promptly

(see note)

cock-shooting; (see note); (t-note)
         As if you were a strumpet or a harlot; (t-note)
likes to be foolish

from me I advise you learn
do your work as necessary


tempt your heart

Unless you know why [they are given]

removes; (t-note)

overcome them

control (preeminence)
[that] no shame be seen upon you
For if

hinders; (t-note)

idleness; (t-note)


imitate; noble women


oversee; staff (household servants)


(see note)

Repay; according to his merits


At one end (I.e., Take up a part)
do not delay
Many things


grain is in short supply
of yourself
(see note)
If you stand amidst your servants

(see note)


At ease; owes
It is no lie, without fail
too long awake in the evening


fall [away] from you
(see note)

these [things] that belong to you

Ruins; incompetently

(see note)


Nor buy anything on credit
therein more damaged

by one

stay or whether they go; (see note)


(see note)

these lessons

the book; (see note)

from us shall depart
(see note)
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