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John Lydgate, Payne and Sorowe of Evyll Maryage


Abbreviations: Mac: Henry Noble MacCracken; MS: Bodleian Library MS Digby 181 (SC 1782), fols. 7a-8b; W: Wynkyn de Worde.

1-7 This first stanza derives from the Cambridge University MS.

14 Under the yoke and bondis of mariage. Each marital partner was obligated to fulfill certain requirements of married life, such as payment of the conjugal debt. Both wife and husband could demand sex from the other at any time with expectations of compliance. The word "husband" refers to a man's ties to his domestic environment, i.e., "bound" to the "house."

16 wedded without avysenesse. This phrase suggests that there is no coercion for the narrator to marry as might be the case in real life. Rather, he is compelled by romantic love.

18 Whom. MS: when.

19 ta lyved. MS: tallowed.

23 And gave. MS: Gave.

46 mater was well couth. MS: mater well couth.

62 Husbondes dare not theyre lustis well gaynsaye. MS: Husbondes dare not well gaynsaye. Mac's emendation.

64-70 This stanza derives from MS Harley 2251.

75 And this. MS: And thus.

83 fall into distresse. MS: full in distresse.

85 And yf so be he. MS: And if be he. Mac's emendation.

90 aventure at. MS: aventure or at.

93 and for mayné. MS: and mayne.

96-98 See the Wife of Bath's version of the adage:
Thow seyst that droppyng houses, and eek smoke,
And chidyng wyves maken men to flee
Out of hir owene houses; a, benedicitee! (III[D]278-80)
Compare also The Tale of Melibee, where Prudence refutes Melibee's charge that "thre thynges dryven a man out of his hous - that is to seyn, smoke, droppyng of reyn, and wikked wyves" (CT VII[B2]1085).

107 sondry pilgremages. Lydgate's persona seems to have someone like the Wife of Bath in mind, who has been three times to Jerusalem, as well as to Rome, Bologne, Compostela, and Cologne in search of company.

113-19 This stanza is substituted for four spurious stanzas according to MacCracken's EETS edition. A fifth stanza, not included in his account, appears in Wynken de Worde's printed edition. The five stanzas are as follows:
And of profyte they take but lytell hede,
     But loketh soure whan theyr husbandes ayleth ought;
And of good mete and drynke they wyll not fayle in dede
     What so euer it cost they care ryght nought;
     Nor they care not how dere it be bought,
Rather than they should therof lacke or mysse
They wolde leeuer laye some pledge ywys.

It is trewe, I tell you yonge men euerychone,
     Women by varyable and loue many wordes and stryfe;
Who can not appease them lyghtly or anone,
     Shall haue care and sorowe all his lyfe,
     That woo the tyme that euer he toke a wyfe;
And wyll take thought, and often muse
How he myght fynd the maner his wyfe to refuse.

But that maner with trouth can not be founde,
     Therfore be wyse or ye come in the snare,
Or er ye take the waye of that bounde;
     For and ye come there youre joye is tourned unto care
     And remedy is there none, so may I fare,
But to take pacyens, and thynke none other way aboute
Then shall ye dye a martyr without ony doute.

Therfore you men that wedded be,
     Do nothynge agaynst the pleasure of your wyfe,
Than shall you lyue the more meryle,
     And often cause her to lyue withouten stryfe;
     Without thou art unhappy unto an euyll lyfe,
Than, yf she than wyll be no better,
Set her upon a lelande, and bydde the deuyll fet her.

Therfore thynke moche and saye nought,
     And thanke God of his goodnesse,
And prece not for to knowe all her thought,
     For than shalte thou not knowe, as I gesse,
     Without it be of her own gentylnesse,
And that is as moche as a man may put in his eye,
For, yf she lyst, of thy wordes she careth not a flye.
123 dredfull, peryllous serpent. MS: dredfull serpent.

127 Explicit. W: Finis. Here endeth ye payne and sorowe of evyll maryage. Imprynted at London in flete strete at the sygne of the Sonne, by me Wynkyn de Worde, W.


























Take hede and lerne, thou lytell chylde, and se
That tyme passed wyl not agayne retourne,
And in thy youthe unto vertues use thee:
Lette in thy brest no maner vyce sojourne,
That in thyne age thou have no cause to mourne
For tyme lost, nor for defaute of wytte:
Thynke on this lesson, and in thy mynde it shytte.

Glory unto God, laude and benysoun
To John, to Petir, and also to Laurence,
Which have me take under proteccioun
From the deluge of mortall pestilence,
And from the tempest of deedly violence,
And me preserved I fell not in the rage
Under the yoke and bondis of mariage.

I was in purpose for to take a wiff,
And for to have wedded without avysenesse,
A full faire mayde, with hir to have ladde my liff,
Whom that I loved of hasty wylfulnesse,
With other folys ta lyved in distresse,
As some gave me councell, and ganne me to constreyne
To be partable of ther wofull peyne.

They lay upon me, and hastid me full sore,
And gave me councell with hem to be bounde,
And ganne to preyse eche day more and more
The wofull lyf in which they did habounde,
And besy weren my gladnesse to confounde,
Themsilf rejoysyng, both at eve and morowe,
To have a felowe to lyve with them in sorowe.

But of his grace God hath me preserved
By the wise councell of these aungelis three;
From hell gates they have mysilf conserved,
In tyme of were when lovers lusty be,
And bright Phebus was fresshest onto see,
In Gemyne, the lusty and gladde seasoun,
Whan I to wedde caught first occasioun.

My joy was sette in especiall
To wedde oon excellyng in fairnesse,
And through here beauté have made mysilf thrall,
Under the yoke of everlastyng distresse;
But God all oonly of his grete goodnesse
Hath be an aungill, as ye herde me tell,
Stopped my passage from thylke perelis of hell.

Amonge these aungelis, that were in nombre thre,
There appered oon oute of the South,
Which that spake first of all that Trinité
All of oon sentence, the mater was well couth;
And he was called "John with the gildyn mouth,"
Which concludith by sentence full notable,
Wyves of custome be gladly variable.

Aftir this John, the story seith also,
In confirmacioun of ther fragilité,
Howe that Petyr called the Corbelio,
Affermyd pleynly, how wyfes gladly be
Dyvers of hert, full of duplicité,
Right mastirfull, hasty, and eke proude,
Crabbed of langage when thei lust cry loude.

Who takith a wyf receyveth a grete charge,
In whiche he is like to have a fall;
With tempest possede as is a sely barge;
Wher he was fre, he makith hymsilf thrall.
Wyves of porte been so imperyall,
Husbondes dare not theyre lustis well gaynsaye,
But lowly plie, and lowly hem obey.

The husbond ever abideth in travaile;
O laboure passed ther comyth another newe;
And every day she gynneth a bataile,
With false compleynyng to chaunge chiere and hewe.
Under suche falsenes she feyneth hir to be triewe,
She makith hir husbond rude as a dul asse,
Owt of whos daunger impossible is to passe.

Thus wedlok is an endles penaunce,
Husbondes knowe that have experience,
A martirdome and a contynuaunce
Of sorowe ay lastynge, a deedly violence;
And this of wyves is gladly the sentence
Upon here husbondes when hem list be bold,
Howe they allone governe the housold.

And if the husbond happe for to thryve,
She saith it is here prudent purviaunce:
If they go bak ageynward and unthryve,
She sayth it is his mysgovernaunce.
He berith the wite of all suche ordynaunce;
If they be poure and fall into distresse,
She sayth it is his foly and his lewdnesse.

And yf so be he be no spereman good,
Hit may well hap he shall have an horn,
A large bone to stuff wythall his hood;
A mowe behynde, and fayned chere beforn;
And if it fall that there good be lorn,
By aventure at even or at morowe,
The sely husbond shall have all the sorowe.

And husbond hath grete cause to care
For wyff, for childe, for stuff and for mayné,
And if ought lacke she woll swere and stare,
"He is a wastoure, and shall never the!"
But Salomon seith ther be thynges thre,
Shrewed wyfes, rayne, and smokes blake
Makith husbondes there houses to forsake.

Wyves been bestes very unstable
In ther desires, which may not chaunged be,
Like a swalowe whiche is insaciable
Like perilous Caribdis of the trouble see,
A wawe calme, full of adversité,
Whoes blandisshyng medled with myschaunce,
Callid Syrenes ay full of variaunce.

They hem rejoise to see and to be sayne,
And to seke sondry pilgremages,
At grete gaderynges to walken upon the playne,
And at staracles to sitte on hie stages,
If they be faire to shewe ther visages;
If they be fowle of look or countenaunce,
They can amend it with pleasaunt daliaunce.

Of ther nature they gretly hem delite,
With holy face fayned for the nones,
In seyntuaries ther frendes to visite,
More than for relikkes or any seyntis bones,
Though they be closed under precious stones;
To gete hem pardoun, like there olde usages,
To kys no shrynes, but lusty yong images.

And to conclude shortly on reasoun,
To speke of wedlok of foles that be blent,
Ther is no more grevous, fell poysoun,
Ne noon so dredfull, peryllous serpent,
As is a wyfe double of here entent;
Wherfore, yonge men, to eschewe sorowe and care,
Withdrawe your foot, or ye fall in the snare.

(see note)

heart; vice reside
failure of knowledge
set (shut)

praise; blessing

obligations; (see note)

advice; (see note)
her; led; life
(see note)
fools to [have] lived; (see note)
be able to share their

(see note)

evening; morning

saved me

Gemini (June)
was first tempted

her; myself slave


known; (see note)
John [Chrysostom]
by habit; unstable

Peter Corbelio



tossed; wretched
desire; oppose; (see note)

suffering; (see note)
begins; battle
feigns herself

Out; stubbornness


(see note)
their; they choose to

happens; prosper
[by] her; management
do poorly

poor; (see note)
folly; ignorance

no good sex partner (spearman); (see note)
It; i.e., be cuckolded

grimace behind [his back]
(see note)

chattel; retinue; (see note)

extravagant spender; thrive
(see note)

[like] beasts

Charybdis; sea
Whose; mixed

various; (see note)
plain (open spaces)
plays; raised seats
show; faces

delight themselves; (see note)
faked; church service
relics; saints'


fools; blind
Nor none such; (see note)

(see note)
John Lydgate, Payne and Sorowe of Evyll Maryage, Select Bibliography


Bodleian Library MS Digby 181 (SC 1782), fols. 7a-8b (sixteenth century).

Cambridge University Library MS Ff. 1.6, fols. 155a-156b (c. 1500).

British Library MS Harley 2251, fols. 45a-51a (1464-83).

Rome Engl. Coll. MS 1306 (also numbered 1127 and A. 347), fols. 80b-82a (1436-56).

Early Printed Edition

de Worde, Wynkyn (1509). [With introductory stanza from Cambridge University Library MS Dd. 4.54, fol. 229b.]


Collier, J. Payne, ed. The Pain and Sorrow of Evil Marriage: From an Unique Copy. In Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular Literature. Vol. 1. London: Printed for the Percy Society, 1965. Pp. 17-22. [Part 4.]

MacCracken, Henry Noble, ed. The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, Part II. EETS o.s. 192. London: Oxford University Press, 1934. Pp. 456-60.

Wright, Thomas, ed. The Latin Poems Commonly Attributed to Walter Mapes. London: Camden Society, 1841. [Contains Latin and French sources.]

Related Studies

Boffey, Julia. "Short Texts in Manuscript Anthologies: The Minor Poems of John Lydgate in Two Fifteenth-Century Collections." In The Whole Book: Cultural Perspectives on the Medieval Miscellany. Ed. Stephen G. Nichols and Siegfried Wenzel. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Pp. 69-82.

Renoir, Alan. "Attitudes Toward Women in Lydgate's Poetry." English Studies 42 (1961), 1-14.

Seah, Victoria Lees. "Marriage and the Love Vision: The Concept of Marriage in Three Medieval Love Visions as Relating to Courtship and Marriage Conventions of the Period." Ph.D. Diss., McGill University, 1978.