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How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter


AbbreviationsB: Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 61 (SC 6922), fols. 7a-8b; F: Frederick J. Furnivall (1869); E: Emmanuel College Cambridge MS I. 428 (James 106), fols. 48b-52a; H: Huntington Library MS HM 128; La: Lambeth Palace Library MS 853; TM: Tauno Mustanoja.

1 Lyst and lythe a lytell. An exhortation to the audience to pay attention. TM suggests that this text is authored by a male cleric. Diane Bornstein disagrees: "The poem has a rough rhythm, simple rhyme scheme, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, and a popular proverbial tone. . . . The poem may represent the traditional lore that a mother passed on to her daughter, put into written form or dictated to a scribe by a woman with some literary skill. If it was written by a man, he effectively answered the persona of a woman of the lower middle-class" ("Women's Public and Private Space," p. 64). The MS is highly abbreviated; "and" appears as an ampersand which F has transformed, as have I. He has also accounted for other abbreviations and added final -e where the meter seems to call for it. Many of these emendations have been retained.

8 shalt. B: sh. The gap following sh in shalt is filled in by F. Many such lacunae in B are filled in by F.

11 tythes. Regular payment of tithes to the parish church was expected not only of the head of the household but of individual members of the parish.

16 stowarde. Stewards were important to medieval society and its literature, serving as surrogates for an absent lord. The introduction of the steward's position as one requiring complete trust will play out later in the poem when the daughter is told that a wife is expected to serve as household manager in the absence of her husband. This also suggests that the household has some wealth.

20 meke and myld. This is an oft-used phrase with a range of meanings, many of which are gender specific. The MED defines meke, for instance, as: "gentle, quiet, unaggressive; of a woman: modest; of eyes: soft"; when combined with myld: "full of loving kindness, benevolent, kind, sweet." Chaucer defies gender distinctions in his description of the knight in the Prologue to the The Canterbury Tales:
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde. (I[A]68-69)
21 And bydde thy bedes aboven alle thinge. The beads referred to here are typically used in prayer.

22 With sybbe ne fremde make no jangelynge. F reads frennde ("friend") for fremde ("stranger"). The admonition (lines 19 ff.) alludes to the Pauline injunction in 1 Corinthians 14:35 that women refrain from speaking in church.

33 wedde with rynge. The ritual of the wedding ring provided a visible sign of betrothal, a symbol of a private vow made public. La adds bifor God.

37 Loke thou mekly answere hym. F's gloss on this - "do not answer him" - suggests that mekly be understood as an injunction against a woman's vocal response in this social situation. However, as the note to line 20 above suggests, to be meek is to assume a range of postures, most of which imply humility.

38 lyth ne lymme. "Body joint nor limb," i.e., anywhere, completely.

41-44 Fayre wordes. The three fayre worde sayings here are clearly proverbial, though not cited by Whiting, who lists five other "fair word" proverbs (see W581-85).

46 Change not thi countenans with grete laughter. The wife's admonition against uncontrolled laughter reflects proper constraints upon female behavior. "A wyf sholde eek be mesurable in lookynge and in berynge and in lawghynge, and discreet in alle hire wordes and hire dedes," says Chaucer's Parson (CT X[I]936). Restraint in laughter is a sign of modesty in a woman; loud laughter is the opposite, suggestive of scorn, ridicule, or lack of sexual restraint. It is one quality of the unruly woman that the narrator of Dunbar's The Tretis of the Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo finds threatening. Chaucer says of the Wife of Bath: "Wel koude she laughe and carpe" (CT I[A]474), suggesting her sanguine irrepressibility; and of herself she observes, "As helpe me God, I laughe whan I thynke" (CT III[D]201). In The Miller's Tale the frisky Alisoun counsels Nicholas, prior to her humiliation of Absalon: "Now hust, and thou shalt laughen al thy fille" (CT I[A]3722), and then laughs herself in one of the most famous lines in Middle English: "'Tehee!' quod she, and clapte the wyndow to" (I[A]3740). Criseyde, filled with thoughts of Troilus, laughs immoderately when Pandarus makes jokes about his role as go-between: "And she to laughe, it thoughte hire herte brest" (Troilus and Criseyde 2.1108). Moderate laughter can be a sign of allurement, as in Swete Thought's soothing of the lover by speaking of "[h]ir laughing eyen, persaunt and clere" (The Romaunt of the Rose, line 2809). But such laughter may likewise suggest comeliness and self-assurance, as in The Book of the Duchess, line 850, where the Good Fair White "[l]aughe and pleye so womanly." Strong women like St. Cecile in Chaucer's The Second Nun's Tale or St. Margaret in the St. Katherine Group may laugh in the face of the tyrant or the fiend, thus humiliating him, but these women are not the models the good wife would invoke for her impressionable daughter.

52 betyde. B: betytde.

55 blame. B: blane.

61 gase. "Goose." Or possibly a "gad about," or "gaze about."

69 other. B: or. The poet/scribe (Rate) consistently abbreviates this term.

73 Ne go thou not to no wrastylynge. Wrestling matches were the province of men and as such were considered inappropriate entertainment for unmarried women.

74 Ne git to no coke schetynge. B: fygntyng. F glosses this sport as "cock fighting" and notes that four dashes under schetynge indicate "an intension to erase" the word. The sport here, however, is not roosters fighting one another in a ring surrounded by spectators (see MED sheting ger. [b]). Rather, it is a sport requiring the shooting of the rooster with an arrow. Other MSS readings clarify: Go thou noght to wraxling, no scheting ate cok.

75 strumpet. B: strmpet.

83 every. B: ever.

99 Bounde thei be that giftys take. There is implicit obligation in the receiving of gifts against which the author warns. It is similar to feudal obligation when the status of the giver is higher than that of the recipient.

105 ff. After line 106 there is a drawing of a fish (pike?) extending the width of the leaf and marking the bottom of the folio. The poem continues at the top of the next folio.

110 werkys. B: werky.

113 ydellschype. B: ydellschy.

116 when. B: whe.

130 mené. B: men. There is a significant difference implied by the emendation. The household servants (mené) over which the daughter is expected to rule are made up of both men and women. This MS omits a mother's responsibility to beat her children as expressed in La:
And if thei children been rebel, & wole not them lowe,
If ony of hem mys dooth, nouther banne hem ne blowe,
But take a smert rodde, & bete hem on arowe
Til thei crei mercy, & be of her gilt aknowe. (Lines 201-04)
In general the Bodleian (Ashmole) text is more gentle in its attitudes toward child-rearing.

148 courne. This term refers not to the plant with ears native to North America, but rather is the word for grain. F notes that in the Lambeth MS 853, the basis for the Babees Book, the word is "time" as it is in the manuscripts printed in E and H:



And yf thin nede beo gret, and thin time streit.
And yif thi nede be grette, and thi tyme streite.
There is an alteration in meaning between the terms grain and time, suggesting on the one hand that the time to make bread is when the grain is ready to harvest while on the other, the time to make bread is when there is need for it.

154 For many handes make lyght werke. A proverbial expression that first appears in the Middle English romance Bevis of Hampton, where it is used to emphasize how even the giant, Ascopard, needs assistance from ordinary men in combat.

161 awes. B: awe.

171-74 And if it thus thee betyde. These lines are omitted in E and H. Interestingly, Rate (see note to line 209) omits a particularly striking quatrain on how a mother should discipline her children. See explanatory note for line 130.

183-84 For meydens, thei be lonely / And nothing syker therby. The bias suggesting that women, particularly young women, are phlegmatic hints at an underlying negative view of women in general. The passage may also provide further evidence for male authorship (see note to line 1).

199 Now I have taught thee, my dere doughter. As in The Wife of Bath's Prologue, the tradition of women passing on women's knowledge is carried out privately between mother and daughter in the domestic environment: "I bar hym on honde he hadde enchanted me - / My dame taughte me that soutiltee" (III[D]575-76).

204 thus seys the letterLetter might mean "script," or "source," but the sense seems to be proverbial, though not cited in Whiting. F (p. 47), using La as his principle source, reads: Betere were a child vnbore / þan vntau3t of wijs lore, / mi leve child.

209 Amen, quod RateRate is taken to be the name of the scribe. F reads Kate.










































Lyst and lythe a lytell space,
Y schall you telle a praty 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 wyrche in all thi lyfe
Serve God, and kepe thy chyrche,
And myche the better thou shalt wyrche.
To go to the chyrch, lette for no reyne,
And that schall helpe thee in thy peyne.
Gladly loke thou pay thy tythes,
Also thy offeringes 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 where that a gode stowerde is,
Wantys seldome any ryches.
When thou arte in the chyrch, my chyld,
Loke that thou be bothe meke and myld,
And bydde thy bedes aboven alle thinge,
With sybbe ne fremde make no jangelynge.
Laughe thou to scorne nother olde ne yonge,
Be of gode berynge and of gode tonge;
Yn thi gode berynge begynnes thi worschype,
My dere doughter, of this take kepe.
Yf any man profer thee to wede,
A curtas answer to hym be seyde,
And schew hym to thy frendes alle;
For any thing that may befawle,
Syt not by hym, ne stand thou nought
Yn sych place ther synne mey be wroght.
What man that thee doth wedde with rynge,
Loke thou hym love aboven all thinge;
Yf that it forteyne thus with thee
That he be wroth, and angery be,
Loke thou mekly answere hym,
And meve hym nother lyth ne lymme;
And that schall sclake hym of hys mode
Than schall thou be hys derlynge gode.
Fayre wordes wreth do slake;
Fayre wordes wreth schall never make,
Ne fayre wordes brake never bone,
Ne never schall in no wone.
Be fayre of semblant, my dere 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 a thou a gyglot were,
Ne laughe thou not low, be thou therof sore.
Luke thou also gape not to wyde,
For anythinge that may betyde.
Suete of speche, loke that thow be
Trow in worde and dede; lerne thus 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 hyderwerd ne thederward thi hede thou caste.
No grete othes loke thou swere:
Byware, my doughter, of syche a maner!
Go not as it wer 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 comme at ale other 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 wrastylynge,
Ne git to no coke schetynge,
As it wer a strumpet other a gyglote,
Or as a woman that lyst to dote.
Byde thou at home, my doughter dere.
Thes poyntes at me I rede thou lere,
And wyrke thi werke at nede,
All the better thou may spede
Y swere thee, doughter, be heven Kynge,
Mery it is of althynge.
Aquyente thee not with every man.
That inne the stret 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 spech to thee can schew.
For no covetys no giftys thou take,
Bot thou wyte why: sone them forsake.
For gode women, with gyftes
Me ther honour fro them lyftes,
Thofe that thei wer all trew
As any stele that bereth hew,
For with ther giftes men them over gone.
Thof thei wer trew as ony stone,
Bounde thei be that giftys take:
Therfor thes giftes thou forsake.
Yn other mens houses make thou no maystry;
For drede, no vylony to thee be spye.
Loke thou chyd no wordes bolde,
To myssey nother yonge ne olde
For and thou any chyder be,
Thy neyghbors wylle speke thee vylony.
Be thou not to envyos,
For dred thi neyghbors wyll thee curse,
Envyos hert hymselve fretys,
And of gode werkys hymselve lettys.
Houswyfely wyll thou gone
On werke deys in thine awne wone.
Pryde, rest, and ydellschype,
Fro thes werkes 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 evermore of mylde mode.
Wysely loke thi hous and meneye,
The beter to do thei schall be.
Women that be of yvell name,
Be ye not togedere in same
Loke what moste nede is to done.
And sette thi mené therto ryght sone.
That thinge that is before done dede,
Redy it is when thou hast nede.
And if thy lord be fro home,
Lat not thy meneye idell gone
And loke thou wele who do hys dede,
Quyte hym therafter to his mede;
And thei that wylle bot lytell do,
Therafter thou quite is 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 thynge 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 courne be stryte,
Make an houswyfe on thyselve,
Thy bred thou bake for houswyfys helthe.
Amonge thi servantes if thou stondyne,
Thy werke it schall be soner done
To helpe them sone thou sterte,
For many handes make lyght werke.
Bysyde thee if thy neghbores thryve,
Therfore 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 awes no dette,
Yt is no les, withouten lette.
Syte not to longe uppe at evene,
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 frendes falle thee fro on every syde,
And God fro thee thi chyld take,
Thy wreke one God do thou not take,
For thyselve it wyll undo,
And all thes that thee longe to
Many one for ther awne foly
Spyllys themselve unthryftyly.
Loke, doughter, nothing thou lese,
Ne thi housbond thou not desples.
And if thou have a doughter of age,
Pute here sone to maryage;
For meydens, thei be lonely
And nothing syker therby.
Borow thou not, if that thou meye,
For drede thi neybour wyll sey naye;
Ne take thou nought to fyrste,
Bot thou be inne more bryste.
Make thee not ryche of other mens thyng,
The bolder to spend be one ferthyng.
Borowyd thinge muste nedes go home,
Yf that thou wyll to heven gone.
When the servantes have do ther 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 frendes 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 wer better
Than be untaught, thus seys the letter.
Therfor Allmyghty God inne trone,
Spede us all, bothe even and morne;
And bringe us to Thy hyghe blysse,
That never more fro us schall mysse!"

Amen, quod Rate
Listen; be attentive; (see note)
pretty story

if you
work; your life
support; church
(see note)
i.e., rain or shine

see to it; tithes; (see note)
do not miss
give; food; clothing
your own steward; (see note)
seldom [is there] lack of

See to it; humble; gracious; (see note)
pray with your beads; (see note)
kinfolk nor strangers; gossip; (see note)
good behavior; careful talk
begins your honor
[advice] take heed
offers to wed you
courteous reply
introduce him
Regardless of; befall
where sin; done
Whatever; (see note)
love him
If it happens
submissively; (see note)
neither provoke him in any way; (see note)
mitigate his anger
darling good
Fair words diminish wrath; (see note)

Nor; ever break bones
fair; appearance
your countenance; (see note)
with regard to manners
gossip; your demeanor
act not as if you were a loose woman
loudly; sorry
yawn (gape); too wide
happen; (see note)
Sweet; speech
flee sin; (see note)
i.e., starts rumors
walk on the path; too fast
one way or the other; looking
if you were a goose (frivolous person); (see note)
idle diversion
material wealth; beware

those who; haunt
reside within
or wine; (see note)
too much; leave on
moderation; harm
drunk; shame
wrestling matches; (see note)
cock shooting; (see note)
or a whore; (see note)
is like a fool
about men I advise you to learn
when needed
promise; by

Acquaint yourself; (see note)
you meet
Though; acquainted with you
Greet; courteously
through; villainy; heart found
fair speech; show
covetousness; gifts
Unless you know; quickly

Men; steal
Though; true
steel; i.e., is polished
i.e., worthy
Obligated; (see note)

attempt; mastery
fear; witness
mis-say (slander) neither
if you; troublemaker; (see note)
slander you
too envious
Envious; itself disturbs
itself hinders; (see note)

own dwelling
idleness; (see note)
[Away] from; activities; keep yourself
worship; (see note)
steadfastly; faith; abide
wear, fancy clothes
copy; ladies
lose; honor
good housewife
of humble spirit
look [after]; household servants
to serve [you]
bad reputation
together in company (i.e., avoid them)
assign your servants; (see note)
before it is needed

i.e., husband; away from
Let; your servants go idle
his work
Give him; reward
but little
cancel his reward
At one end
do not hesitate
Many things behoove


grain; straight; (see note)
i.e., do the work
bake bread; well-being

(see note)

do not begrudge them


ease; owes; debt; (see note)
lie, without a doubt (truly)
fear; intoxicated
on time
Early to rise; good medicine

their wealth
happens; (see note)
friends fall away

grievance on

Many [a] one; own folly
Defeat; unwisely

i.e., marrying age
Offer her
(see note)
lack certainty as a result

[what is] lent on credit
Unless; need
men's money
by one farthing
be returned
heaven go

pay their hire; prompt
stay before; leave
your friends

yourself; seriously
(see note)

is better unborn
goes the proverb; (see note)
Protect; evening

(see note)
How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter, Select Bibliography


Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 61 (SC 6922), fols. 7a-8b (c. 1500). [Base copy text for this edition.]

Emmanuel College Cambridge MS I. 428 (James 106), fols. 48b-52a (c. 1350).

Trinity College Cambridge MS 599 (R. 3.19), fols. 211a-213a (c. 1500).

Lambeth Palace Library MS 853, pp. 102-12 (c. 1430). [In stanzas with refrain.]

Huntington Library MS HM 128 (Ashburnham 130), fols. 217a-220a (c. 1450).

Early Printed Editions

Madden, Sir Frederick, ed. How the Goode Wif Thaught Hir Doughter. London: C. Whittington, 1838.

Stow, John. Certaine Worthy MS Poems of Great Antiquitie. London, 1597; rpt. 1812.


Coulton, G. G. Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1918; rpt. 1919, 1938, 1968.

Furnivall, Frederick J., ed. 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. Pp. 44-51.

---. The Babees Book, Aristotle's ABC, Urbanitatis, Stans Puer ad Mensam, The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, The Bokes of Nurture of Hugh Rhodes and John Russell, Wynkyn de Worde's Book of Kervynge, The Booke of Demeanor, The Boke of Curtasye, Seager's Schoole of Vertue, etc. etc. with some French and Latin Poems on Like Subjects and Some Forewards on Education in Early England. EETS o.s. 32. London: N. Trübner & Co., 1868. Rpt. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969. Pp. 36-47.

Hindley, Charles D., ed. The Old Book Collector's Miscellany. London: Reeves & Turner, 1871.

Mustanoja, Tauno, ed. The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter, The Good Wyfe Wold a Pylgremage, The Thewis of Gud Women. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Scuran, 1948.

Partridge, John, ed. The Hystorie of the Moste Noble Knight Plasidas and Other Rare Pieces. London: J. B. Nichols & Sons, 1873.


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. 31-42. [A modernized version.]

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

Related Studies

Ashley, Kathleen M. "Medieval Courtesy Literature and Dramatic Mirrors of Female Conduct." In The Ideology of Conduct: Essays on Literature and the History of Sexuality. Ed. Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse. New York: Methuen, 1987. Pp. 25-38.

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.

---. "As Meek as a Maid: A Historical Perspective on Language for Women in Courtesy Books from the Middle Ages to Seventeen Magazine." In Women's Language and Style. Ed. Douglas Butturff and Edmund L. Epstein. Akron: L & S Books, 1978. Pp. 132-38.

---. "Women's Public and Private Space in Some Medieval Courtesy Books." Centerpoint: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 3 (1980), 68-74.

Hanawalt, Barbara A. 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.

Sponsler, Claire. Drama and Resistance: Bodies, Goods, and Theatricality in Late Medieval England. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. [See especially ch. 3: "Conduct Books and Good Governance." Pp. 50-74.]

Stiller, Nikki. Eve's Orphans: Mothers and Daughters in Medieval English Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.