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How the Goode Man Taught Hys Sone


Abbreviations: B: Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 61 (SC 6922), fols. 6a-6b; F: Frederick J. Furnivall; Fi: Rudolf Fischer; H: British Library MS Harley 5396, fols. 297a-300b; La: Lambeth Palace Library MS 853, pp. 186-92; MS: Cambridge University Library MS Ff. 2. 38, fols. 53a-54a.

The unique title for MS is: Here foloweth how the goode man taght hys sone. The other five replace "good" with "wise."

1 Lysteneth all and ye shall here. Conventional exhortation to the audience. Also found in romances of the period, perhaps as a reminder of their origins in an oral storytelling tradition. Here, the exhortation has the effect of capturing an audience's attention before the narrator/poet launches into his didactic treatise, which itself underscores issues of listening and speaking.

3 Take gode tente. Another exhortation to pay attention. B reads: Take god hede.

4 fonde to lerne. The emphasis on learning in relation to the "song" suggests an acute awareness of the didactic value of entertaining fiction.

10 Was wele of fiftene wyntur age. The age of fifteen seems to mark a conventional rite of passage into the adult masculine world. Children were imagined to reach an age of reason by their seventh year. Romance heroes experience significant changes in the course of their lives at these ages (e.g., Bevis of Hampton, Eglamour, Gowther, Amis, Amiloun, and Horn). Female saints also undergo a significant challenge at age fourteen or fifteen.

11 meke and mylde. A conventional expression suitable for school boys, but sometimes used to describe a man whose peaceful nature exceeds his martial prowess.

15 in hys langage. The variant in H - With good ensaumple and faire langage - suggests judicious discourse told carefully by an exemplary parent. The wisdom of the "wise" man is proven by the approbation of his pedagogical methods stated in the next line: "Taught hys sone, bothe wele and feyre." B reads His fader þus on þis langage / Tau3ht his sone wele and feyre. La reads With good ensaumple and faire langage / His fader tau3t him weel and faire.

31 Thy lyfe is mesure that thou lede. I.e., the quality of your life is measured by the way you lead it.

33 And, sone, thy tonge thou kepe also. The injunction to watch what one says was ascribed to the wisdom of Solomon by medieval writers and applied to both sexes. Proverbial wisdom plays a significant part in this conduct treatise. See Whiting T372 and T374.

47 maugreth. The MED cites a range of meanings for maugre n. 1.: "(a) blame, reproach; ?ingratitude; ill-will, resentment; wrath, hostility; also, a rebuke; (b) shame, dishonor, disgrace; (c) a fault or an offense."

51 Let no newfangylnes thee pleese. The conventional notion of community stability so important to medieval writers is emphasized here as well. The dictate promoted by the father indicates the mistrust with which novelty and its potential threat to that stability was viewed.

57 specyally. Fi omits in his edition.

59 Loke thou use nevyr comynly the taverne. Compare to How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter: "Forsake thou hym that taverne hanteth, / And all the vices that therinne bethe" (lines 67-68). Medieval taverns were locations not only for drinking but for vices such as gambling and prostitution. The daughter of the Goode Wife is also warned to stay away from these establishments, as well as to avoid wrestling matches and cockfighting, activities not mentioned for a young man to avoid.

comynly. Fi omits in his edition.

67 Lagh not to moche. Compare to How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter. While young women are cautioned to restrict laughter in order to avoid looking immodest, young men are cautioned to restrict laughter in order to avoid looking foolish. Troilus' post-mortem laughter indicates a retrospective understanding of his foolishness in love.

74 use no rere sopers. Compare to Robert Mannyng of Brunne's Handlyng Synne (ed. Idelle Sullens [Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1983]):
Rere sopers yn pryuyte.
Wyþ glotonye echoune þey be,
And þyr ys moche waste ynne,
And gaderyng of oþuer synne. (Lines 7261-64)
See also Lydgate's "A Dietary and a Doctrine for Pestilence" in Minor Poems (see entry in Select Bibliography to Payne and Sorowe of Evyll Maryage, p. 215):
Suffre no surfitis in thyn hous at nyht,
War of rer sopers and of gret excesse. (Lines 137-38)
76 surfett. MS: furfett; H: surfett. Since the MED does not list furfett, it is more likely than surfett is intended. The stanza (i.e., lines 73 ff.) is somewhat different in La:
And sonne, sitte not up at euen to longe,
Neither vse no rere souperis late;
Þou3 þou be boþe hool an strong,
Wt such outrage it wole aslake;
And of late walking comeþ debate,
And out of tyme to sitte & drink,
Þerfore be waar & keep þi state,
And go to bedde bi tyme, & wynke.
81-88 No equivalent to this stanza is found in B or La.

92 Thou wysely wayte and wele avyse. This advice seems to contradict those who say that the average age of marriage was fourteen for boys and twelve for girls and seems commensurate with romance heroes and heroines who typically marry later in life.

97 reste and pees. Another conventional expression, also found in Ratis Raving, an instruction manual of the late fifteenth century, Chaucer, various hymns to the Virgin, and Barbour's Legends of the Saints. See the MED.

104 feffe and sese. Whatever property came into a woman's possession or provided for her was to be brought to the marriage as a dowry.

108 To charge hur then to owtragely. The issue of how a husband should treat his wife is important in the late Middle Ages. A husband/father had the legal right to "correct" the behavior of his wife and children in any way he deemed fit. Harsh chastisement was common as a form of discipline underwritten by the proverb ascribed to Solomon: "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Robert Mannyng of Brunne explains in Handlyng Synne:
Man or womman þat haþ a chyld,
Þat wyþ vnþewes wexyþ wyld,
Þat wyle boþe mysseye and do,
Chastysement behouyþ þar to.
But 3e hem chastyse at 3our myght,
3e falle ellys for hem yn plyght.
Better were þe chyld vnbore
Þan fayle chastysyng & seþen lore.
Þus seyþ þe wys kyng salomoun
To men and wymmen eurychoun:
"Wyle 3e þat 3oure chylder be aferd,
3euyþ hem þe smert ende of þe 3erd
And techeþ hem gode þewes echoun,
3yt dur 3ow breke hem no boun." (Lines 4851-64)

bad manners 

In Stans Puer ad Mensam, Lydgate (Minor Poems, p. 743-44) advises:
In childeris werre now myrthe, not debate,
   In her quarell is no great vyolence;
Now pley, now wepyng, selde in an estate;
   To her pleyntes yeve no gret credence;
   A rod refourmeth al her insolence;
In her corage no rancour doth abyde;
Who spareth the yerde, al vertue set asyde. (Lines 85-91)
120 reyse a smoke. This seems to be an idiomatic expression meaning to make a public complaint.

121-44 Three stanzas on the treatment of wives are bawdlerized or omitted in H and B. The five stanzas on treatment of one's wife in F's version of La (lines 73-112) avoid the topic of disciplining her and rather stress kindness: if she displeases be "softe & faire" (line 103) rather than defaming or shaming her with "vilouns name" (line 98).

131-32 Thogh sche be sirvunt in degree, / In some degre sche fellowe ys. Scriptural edicts established a marital hierarchy that subordinated women and children to fathers/ husbands who legally presided as the head of the household. Scriptural edicts also supported companionate marriage which afforded wives a status commensurate with her husband's, at least in theory.

141 lone awe. This expression, repeated in line 143, links love and fear; awe, meaning "dread" and "terror," also means "reverence" and "veneration." Lone could also be an error for love.

157 fekyll and frele. The mutability of the material world, or in Chaucer's words its "lack of stedfastnesse," is a common theme in medieval thought as expressed earlier in line 51, when the father cautions against "newfangylnes."

160 Hyt faryth but as a cheryfeyre. The cherry fair was a celebration held in orchards during the cherry season. Such an event is alluded to in Sir Cleges when the hero brings a basket of cherries out of season and thus held to be miraculous to the king as a gift. Reference to the occasion appears twice in John Gower's Confessio Amantis (ed. G. C. Macaulay, EETS e.s. 81-82 [London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., ltd., 1900-01]) in a discussion of teachers of religion and morality:
Thei prechen ous in audience
That noman schal his soule empeire,
For al is bot a chirie feire. (P.452-54)

Somtime I drawe into memoire
Hou sorwe mai noght evere laste;
And so comth hope in ate laste,
What I non other fode knowe.
And that endureth bot a throwe,
Riht as it were a cherie feste. (6.886-91)
165 withowten othe. A conventional expression found in a number of romances and didactic works which emphasize the importance of verbal commitments.

180 ff. There are four lines missing at the end of this stanza. In H the equivalent stanza reads:
   And therfore do thou bi my councelle,
And take ensample of othir men,
How litil her good dooth hem availe
Whanne their be dolven in her den,
And he that was not of hys kyn
Hath his wiif, and al that there is.
Sonne, kepe thee out of deedly synne,
And asaye to gete thee paradiis. (Lines 129-36)
182 The moost thyng that certeyn ys. Fi has The moost certeyn thyng that ys.






































Lystenyth all and yeshall here,
How the gode man taght hys sone;
Take gode tente to thys matere,
And fonde to lerne hyt, yf ye conne,
Thys songe by yong men was bygonne,
To make them trysty and stedfaste;
But iarne that ys ofte tyme evell spon,
Evyll hyt cometh owt at the laste.

A wyse man had a feyre chylde,
Was wele of fiftene wyntur age,
That was bothe meke and mylde,
Fayre of body and of vysage,
Gentyl of kynde and of corage.
For he schulde be hys fadurs heyre,
Hys fadur thus in hys langage
Taught hys sone, bothe wele and feyre,

And seyde: "Sone, kepe thys worde in hert,
And thynke theron to thou be deed,
Every day the fyrste werke
Loke thys be done in every stedd:
Fyrste see thy God in forme of bredd,
And serve Hym wele for Hys godenes.
And aftur that, sone, be my redd,
Go to thy worldely besynes.

"Fyrste worschyp thy God on the day,
And, sone, thys schalt thou have to mede:
Skylfully whatso thou pray,
He wyll thee graunt, withowten drede,
And sende thee all that thou haste nede,
As far as mesure longyth to strecche.
Thy lyfe in mesure that thou lede,
And of the remenunt thou ne recche.

"And, sone, thy tonge thou kepe also,
And be not talewyse in no way;
Thyn owen tonge may be thy foo.
Therfore beware, sone, y thee pray,
Where and when, sone, thou shalt say,
And by whom thou spekyst oght;
For thou may speke a worde today,
That seven yere aftur may be forthoght.

"Therfore, sone, bewar be tyme,
Desyre none offyce for to bere,
For of thy neghburs maugreth thyn,
Thou must them bothe dysplese and dere,
Or ellys thyselfe thou must forswere
And do not as thyn offyce wolde,
And gete thee maugreth here and there,
More then thanke a thousandefolde.

"And, sone, yf thou wylt leve at eese,
And warme among thy neghburs sytt,
Let no newfangylnes thee pleese,
Oftyn to remeve nor to flytt.
For yf thou do, there wantyth wytt,
For folys they remeve all to wyde;
And also, sone, an ell sygne ys hyt:
A man that can nowhere abyde.

"And, sone, of oon thyng specyally y thee warn,   
And of my blessyng take gode hede,
Loke thou use nevyr comynly the taverne,
And also dysyng y thee forbede.
For these two thyngs, withowten drede,
And comyn women, as y leve,
Maken yong men evyll to spede,
And bryngyth them often to myschefe.

"And, sone, the more gode thou haste,
The rather bere thee meke and lowe.
Lagh not to moche, for that ys waste,
For folys byn by laghyng knowe.
And, sone, paye wele that thou doyst owe,
So that thou be of dettys clere.
And thus, my lefe chylde, as y trowe,
Thou mayste thee kepe fro all daunger.

"And loke thou wake not to longe,
Neydur use no rere sopers to late;
For were thy complexion never so stronge,
Wyth surfett thou mayste fordo that.
Of late wakyng fallyth often debate,
On nyghtys for to sytt and drynke.
Yf thou wylt rewle wele thyn astate,
Betymys go to bedd and wynke.

"And, sone, as fer forthe as thou may,
On none enquest loke that thou come,
Nor no false wytnesse bere away
Of no mannys mater all ne some;
For bettur were thee be defe and dome,
Then for to be on any enqueste,
That afturward myght be undurnome;
A trewe man had hys quarell leste.

"And, sone, yf thou wylt have a wyfe,
Take hur for no covetyse,
But loke, sone, sche be thee lefe;
Thou wysely wayte and wele avyse,
That sche be gode, honest, and wyse.
Thogh sche be pore, take thou non hede,
For sche schall do thee more servyse,
Then schall a ryche, withowten drede.

"For bettry hyt ys in reste and pees,
A messe of potage and no more,
Then for to have a thousand messe
Wyth grete dysese and anger sore.
Therfore, sone, thynk on thys lore:
Yf thou wylt have a wyfe wyth ese,
By hur good sett thou no store,
Thogh sche wolde thee bothe feffe and sese.

"And yf thy wyfe be meke and gode,
And serve thee wele and plesauntly,
Loke that thou be not so wode,
To charge hur then to owtragely;
But thou fare with hur esely,
And cherysch hur for hur gode dede;
For thyng overdon unskylfully
Makyth wrath to growe where ys no nede.

"I wyll neyther glose ne paynte,
But warne thee on another syde:
Yf thy wyfe come to make a playnte
On thy servauntys on ony syde,
Be not to hasty them to chyde,
Nor wrath thee not, or thou wyt the sothe;
For wemen in wrath they can noght hyde,
But soone they can reyse a smoke.

"Nor, sone, be not jellows, y thee pray,
For yf thou falle yn yelesye,
Let not thy wyfe wyt be no way,
For thou may do no more folye.
For and thy wyfe may onys aspye,
That thou hur anythyng mystryste,
In despyte of thy fantesye,
To do the worse ys all hur lyste.

"Therfore, sone, y bydd thee,
Wyrche with thy wyfe, as reson ys;
Thogh sche be sirvunt in degree,
In some degre sche fellowe ys.
Laddys that are weddyd, so have y blys,
That cannot rewle ther wyvys aryght,
That makyth wemen, so have y blys,
To do often wronge, in plyght.

"Nethur, sone, bete not thy wyfe, y rede,
For therin may no helpe bee.
Betyng may not stonde in stede,
But rather make hur to despyse thee.
With lone awe, sone, thy wyfe chastyse,
And let feyre wordes be thy gerde;
Lone awe ys the beste gyse,
My sone, to make thy wyfe aferde.

"Nodur, sone, thy wyfe thou schalt not chyde,
Nor calle hur be no fowle name,
For sche that schall lye be thy syde,
To calle hur foule hyt ys thy schame.
When thou thyn own wyfe wyll dyffame,
Well may another man do soo.
Softe and feyre men make tame
Harte, bukk, and wylde roo.

"Also, sone, pay wele thy tythe,
And pore men of thy gode thou dele;
And loke, sone, be thy lyve,
That thou gete thy soule here some hele.
Thys worlde hyt ys full fekyll and frele,
All day be day hyt wyll enpayre;
And so, sone, thys worldys weele
Hyt faryth but as a cheryfeyre.

"For all that ever man doyth here
Wyth besynesse and travell bothe,
All hyt ys, withowten were,
For owre mete, drynke, and clothe.
More gettyth he not, withowten othe,
Kynge or prynce whethur that he bee;
Be hym lefe or be hym lothe,
A pore man hath as moche as hee.

"And many a man her gedryth gode
All hys lyfetyme for other men,
That he may not, be the Rode,
Hymselfe oonys ete of an henne.
But be he dolvyn in hys denne,
Another shall come at hys laste ende,
Schall have hys wyfe and catell then;
That he hath gaderyd, another shall spende.

"Therfore, sone, be my counsayle,
More then ynogh thou nevyr coveyte.
Thou wottyst not when dethe wyll thee assayle;
Thys worlde ys but the fendys beyte.

"For dethe, sone, ys, as y trowe,
The moost thyng that certeyn ys;
And none so uncerteyn for to knowe,
As ys the tyme of dethe, ywys.
And therfore, sone, thynke on thys
And all that y have seyde beforne.
And Jhesu brynge us to Hys blys,
That for us weryd the crowne of thorne."
Listen; hear; (see note)

Pay attention; (see note)
try; learn it; can; (see note)
for; made
[a] yarn (story); poorly told
Useless; end

fifteen years old; (see note)
Who; (see note)
father's heir
his [own] words; (see note)
his son; well; wisely

until; dead
activity [that you do]
See to it [that]

by my advice

I.e., first thing in the morning
sustain you
bequeath; without a doubt
have need for
measure; stretch
I.e., the length of your life; (see note)
remainder; do not reach

i.e., hold your tongue; (see note)

to whom you are speaking

seven years later; regretted

aware in time
no official position

compromise yourself
your position demands
ill-will; (see note)

live; ease
(see note)

ill sign

one; (see note)

See to it that; (see note)
dicing (i.e., gambling)

common; believe

lead; trouble

goodness you have

Laugh; much; (see note)
fools are known by laughing
pay well (in a timely fashion)
clear of debts
dear child

stay up too long
Nor let no last meal of the day be too late; (see note)

excess; (see note)

i.e., take care of your body

far away; (see note)
quest (pilgrimage)

man's business
better to be mute

not out of desire of possessions
be loved of you
wisely wait; be well advised; (see note)

rich [woman]; doubt

(see note)


with means

[Even] though; [bring] you; fief; seizin; (see note)


punish her; too outrageously; (see note)
deal; justly
cherish her
done to excess

gloss nor paint
too; chastise
anger you; before

complain; (see note)

jealous; (see note)
into jealousy
know of it

once realize
mistrust her [in] anything

servant; (see note)
is an equal
Lads who
rule; wives in the right way

under stress

beat; counsel

Beating; help
despise you
(see note)

lie by your side

defame (i.e., slander)

Stag; buck; doe


fickle; free; (see note)
i.e., commonweal
cherry fair; (see note)

i.e., in this life

without doubt
food; clothing
unquestionably; (see note)
whether he is
fairminded; loathsome

here accumulates wealth

by the Cross



know; death; assail
fiend's bait; (see note)

I know
(see note)
what is not known
time of death
think about this

Who; wore
How the Goode Man Taght Hys Sone, Select Bibliography


Cambridge University Library MS Ff. 2. 38, fols. 53a-54a (c. 1500).

British Library MS Harley 5396, fols. 297a-300b (c. 1475).

British Library MS Harley 2399, fols. 61a-63a (c. 1500).

Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 61 (SC 6922), fol. 6a-6b (c. 1500). [Base text for this edition.]

Lambeth Palace Library MS 853, pp. 186-92 (c. 1430).

Balliol College Oxford MS 354, fols. 157a-158b (early sixteenth century).


Fischer, Rudolf., ed. How the Wise Man Taught Hys Sone. Erlangen: A. Deichertsche Verlabsbuch, 1889. [Contains three MSS, including Cambridge University Ff. 2. 38.]

Furnivall, Frederick J., ed. The Babees Book. EETS o.s. 32. London: N. Trübner, 1868. [Based on Lambeth 853.]

---. Queene Elizabethes Achademy: A Booke of Precedence, etc., with Essays on Early Italian and German Books of Courtesy. EETS e.s. 8. London: N. Trübner, 1869. [Based on Bodleian 6922.]

Ritson, Joseph, ed. Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry: From Authentic Manuscripts and Old Printed Copies. London: C. Clarke, for T. and J. Egerton, 1791; rpt. 1833, 1884.

---. Ancient Popular Poetry: From Authentic Manuscripts and Old Printed Copies. Edinburgh: Privately printed, 1884. [Based on Harley 5396.]


Rickert, Edith, ed. The Babees Book: Medieval Manners for the Young Now First Done into Modern English from the Texts of Dr. F. J. Furnivall. London: The Ballantyne Press, 1908. Rpt. London: Chatto & Windus, 1923. Pp. 43-46. [A modernized version.]

Walsh, James. J., ed. A Golden Treasury of Medieval Literature. Boston: The Stratford Co., 1930.

Related Studies

Ashley, Kathleen M., and Robert L. A. Clark, eds. Medieval Conduct. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Bornstein, Diane. Mirrors of Courtesy. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1975. [Background.]

Ferster, Judith. Fictions of Advice: The Literature and Politics of Counsel in Late Medieval England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. [Background.]

Dronzek, Anna. "Gendered Theories of Education in Fifteenth-Century Conduct Books." In Ashley and Clark. Pp. 135-59.

Hanawalt, Barbara A. 'Of Good and Ill Repute': Gender and Social Control in Medieval England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. [Contains useful discussion of advice manuals and codes of conduct for children.]

---. Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Nicholls, Jonathan. The Matter of Courtesy: Medieval Courtesy Books and the Gawain-Poet. Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1985.

Orme, Nicolas. From Childhood to Chivalry: The Education of the English Kings and Aristocracy 1066-1530. London and New York: Methuen, 1984. [Discusses advice tradition, including mirrors for princes.]