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John Lydgate(?), Prohemy of a Mariage Betwixt an Olde Man and a Yonge Wife, and the Counsail


1 Wherever this flattery rules, this wicked offense

2 Lines 15-18: My old dear friend, why do you ask advice of me / Whether you shall wed in order to have joy in your life? / Eagerly would you learn, if it were an advantage / For you to have a goodly one to wife

3[Her] weeping is a wicked trap, no doubt about it

4 Lines 61-62: And that which the good man (the old husband) had, he (the knave) shall have it / At last, the young [one] who can well bestir himself (is energetic)

5 And well lined with good red silk (thread), i.e., bloodshot

6 Lines 113-14: Beware the illness called the pank [? a fabricated ailment to cover sexual desire]. / [Beware] a term of court (i.e., when you are away attending to your legal affairs), for the tide (i.e., time) waits for no man

7 Unless he (i.e., the husband) is [a good "surgeon"], the wife will find a man who is able [?knows]

8 On your forehead [the marks (i.e., wrinkles)] of many Fridays (i.e., days of fasting and penance) [appear], this is no lie

9 Lines 155-56: She will chastise you, if you love honesty / Avoiding slander [thereby], [and] accuse you of jealousy

10 Like priests who hear confession, they will whisper secretly

11 Beware then the part of the tally stick kept by the creditor (i.e., beware the debt you incur with marriage)

12 Lines 173-75: And whoever gives counsel [to the husband] contrary thereto (i.e., to the wife's will), / She makes him (i.e., that counselor) anxious, because some [wives] sorely hate / Those whom their husbands love, and no man more so

13 Lines 246-47: But be very wary of supposed cousins, / Or god-relations, or the maintenance of retainers

14 Lines 255-56: Of a rich man who, according to everyone, / Had great power and might, both [to] loosen and [to] bind [others in servitude]

15 Lines 282-87: Onto the ground, and said, "Would [to] God of might / [That] I had been born, by heavenly influence, / So fortunate, that I might justly / Do true service, as a female handmaiden ever in sight / Unto her [watchful] lord, and never refrain regardless of age, / [I] who was never [thought] apt (appropriate) to such a marriage [as you propose]"

16 Lines 419-20: And look about for that which may grieve you, / Because I could not care less what [your] anger might cause [you to do]


Abbreviations: MS: British Library MS Harley 372, fols. 45a-51a; Ha: James Orchard Halliwell.

Incipit The title appears in the upper right margin of the MS, separated from the body of the text.

1 philosophre. Here philosophre probably means "scholar, learned man; wise man" rather than anything more specific.

clerk seculer. The term probably refers to a priest who has not taken vows of a religious order or rule: "secular" as opposed to "regular," from Latin regula "rule."

3 such. Ha adds final -e.

23-35 All the major characters of Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale are mentioned in these lines: Justinius, Placebo, January, May, Damian, Pluto, and Proserpina.

24 The long cart offte hath hevy cariage. The meaning of this proverb is not trans-parent. It probably refers here to the heavy responsibility of marriage since it was imagined to last a lifetime. Cariage is defined in Whiting as "burden." See C55.

30 There seems to be something missing from this line. Descryveth is demanded by the rhyme, but the apparent subject, Chauuceres, is genitive. However, to add a word like book, tale, or Merchant would seem to make the line overlong. Perhaps the adjective mayster, so commonly appended to Chaucer's name in the fifteenth century, was a later insertion that led to the subsequent omission of the verb's original subject.

43-49 This is a difficult series of analogies. Here is one interpretation. The first two lines describe the woman playing the stereotypical beloved; the last line states that her behavior is really a means of entrapment and does not represent her true nature. The philosopher states that beasts of ignoble stature (kite and cur) are wary of entrapment while noble beasts (hawk and greyhound) are easily caught. The old friend would be inclined to align himself with the noble beasts particularly as a lover; he would tend to think of himself as a hawk rather than a kite. The philosopher shows his old friend the consequence of following his noble nature in this case: captivity, i.e., marriage. The philosopher is attempting to undermine the romantic love games that the old man wants to play and, according to the philosopher, the young girl can play only too well.

53-56 The philosopher is fond of puns. What is being said is that many an old rooster appears to be in charge of his flock, but in fact the hens are being served by younger cocks. What is more, the eggs (and chicks) are the young cock's progeny, not the old rooster's.

67 cache. MS: cachche. Ha: cache.

80 inowe. Ha: I nowe.

91 astaunche. The MED has only this example for astaunchen meaning "satisfy (sexual desire)." The more common staunchen frequently means "satisfy (hunger, thirst, greed, etc.)," so it seems likely that the poet has extended that primary meaning to sexual desire. Hence the use of appetite as the verb's object.

92-95 The stomach was often viewed as the seat of sexual passion in the Middle Ages. The idea that the old man's cold belly might be covered and remedied by a warm young woman perhaps relates to old Januarie's remarks on "bely-naked" Adam, for whom God created Eve as his comfort(er):
The hye God, whan he hadde Adam maked,
And saugh him al allone, bely-naked,
God of his grete goodnesse seyde than,
"Lat us now make an helpe unto this man
Lyk to hymself"; and thanne he made him Eve.
Heere may ye se, and heerby may ye preve,
That wyf is mannes help and his confort. (CT IV[E]1325-31)
96 juvencle. This word derives from Latin iuvencula (youth).

104 This is the first of a number of references to the "battle of the sexes."

106 Compare The Merchant's Tale (IV[E]1248-55):


And sixty yeer a wyflees man was hee,
And folwed ay his bodily delyt
On wommen, ther as was his appetyt,
As doon thise fooles that been seculeer.
And whan that he was passed sixty yeer,
Were it for hoolynesse or for dotage
I kan nat seye, but swich a greet corage
Hadde this knyght to been a wedded man.
113-15 pank . . . male de flank. Pank is a word of obscure origin attested only here. The MED entry for pank n. speculates on the term as "coinage to rime with flanke," mal de flanke, which suggests "inordinate sexual desire." Male de flank is a term more widely attested.

132 them. The couple the philosopher has just described is the referent of them.

144 junesse. The noun means "youth" or "youthfulness." See note to line 96.

152-54 than thouh . . . . The syntax here is difficult. It seems the wife has the potential to swink her husband to death in a manner made famous by the Wife of Bath.

161 countertaile. The tally stick was a means by which debtor and creditor each kept a record of their transaction. The amount of the debt was recorded on both ends of the stick, which was then broken in two, each party receiving half. The countertaile must refer to the tally of acquittance held by the creditor, which could be offered as proof of debt to the debtor, or to a court in case of legal action. The idea of marriage partners incurring a "debt" becomes crucial in the story of July and December; see lines 433-41. Of course, the possibility of punning on countertaile should not be overlooked. Compare The Wife of Bath's Prologue (III[D]152 ff.) and 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.

162-68 Compare The Wife of Bath's Tale (III[D]1258-64):
                     and Jhesu Crist us sende
Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde,
And grace t'overbyde hem that we wedde;
And eek I praye Jhesu shorte hir lyves
That noght wol be governed by hir wyves;
And olde and angry nygardes of dispence,
God sende hem soone verray pestilence!
167 mydnythe, matynes, evensong, prime, and houres. The canonical hours. Note that the wife plays the role of the monk.

169-75 Compare The Franklin's Tale (V[F]744-52 ff.):
And for to lede the moore in blisse hir lyves,
Of his free wyl he swoor hire as a knyght
That nevere in al his lyf he, day ne nyght,
Ne sholde upon hym take no maistrie
Agayn hir wyl, ne kithe hire jalousie,
But hire obeye, and folwe hir wyl in al,
As any lovere to his lady shal,
Save that the name of soveraynetee,
That wolde he have for shame of his degree.
176 Compare the situation of the Wife of Bath, who has had only five husbands.

183-86 Compare The Wife of Bath's Prologue (III[D]564-71, 587-92):
I seye that in the feeldes walked we,
Til trewely we hadde swich daliance,
This clerk and I, that of my purveiance
I spak to hym and seyde hym how that he,
If I were wydwe, sholde wedde me.
For certeinly - I sey for no bobance -
Yet was I nevere withouten purveiance
Of mariage, n'of othere thynges eek.
. . . .
Whan that my fourthe housbonde was on beere,
I weep algate, and made sory cheere,
As wyves mooten, for it is usage,
And with my coverchief covered my visage,
But for that I was purveyed of a make,
I wepte but smal, and that I undertake.
198 mantle and the ryng. The mantle and the ring are signs of widowhood. Compare similar collocations in the MED's entry for mantel n. 1(g).

199 Whil thou levest. MS: there is a word crossed out before levest.

213 The situation insinuated here is reminiscent of Damian and May in The Merchant's Tale.

223 And he and she shal have lond. MS: the word preceding have is crossed out.

224 Avaunt, rebel, of thy sore goten goode. MS: sore is written above grete. This line appears to be addressed to the servant-lover in much the way that Chaucer's Merchant breaks the fictive framework of his narrative to scold Januarie and Damian (e.g., IV[E]1869-74, 2107-10).

232-38 This stanza refers to letters of introduction that the wife receives from high personages that will provide a pretext for her dealing with her lover. The ruse seems to be that the letters plead with the wife to take pity on the man in question, who is in fact already her lover.

246-49 The philosopher here provides a catalogue of tricks by which young wives and their lovers hoodwink old husbands. The lordes lettres (line 248; compare lines 232-38) are mentioned again along with pretended kinship, apparent abduction, horseplay, and (perhaps) the need to have retinue (myght of mayntenaunce, line 247). Cosynage (line 246) meaning "kinship" with a pun on cozenage ("cuckoldry") appears three times in Chaucer's The Shipman's Tale (VII[B2]1226, 1329, 1599).

254 Lo! here a tale. Compare the Wife of Bath's "wol ye heere the tale?" (III[D]951), as she introduces the story of Midas and his wife.

260, 274 Compare The Merchant's Tale (IV[E]1410-14):
And I wol fonde t'espien, on my syde,
To whom I may be wedded hastily.
But forasmuche as ye been mo than I,
Ye shullen rather swich a thyng espyen
Than I, and where me best were to allyen.
264 indigence. The adjective indigente would be better, but it ruins the rhyme.

279-80 Although the old man seems to be asking if she will marry him not simply because of his wealth - by spousayle fortunate, / Notwithstandyng his richesse and estate, that is, by a marriage which is fortune in and of itself even without his properties - he is really asking if she will marry him despite his age.

334 lakketh. Ha: talketh.

347 Compare The Merchant's Tale (IV[E]1823-27):
He lulleth hire; he kisseth hire ful ofte;
With thikke brustles of his berd unsofte,
Lyk to the skyn of houndfyssh, sharp as brere -
For he was shave al newe in his manere -
He rubbeth hire aboute hir tendre face.
358-61 This is the plighting of troth, which is the heart of the wedding ceremony. For a discussion of the English customs of trothplight and wedding, see George Caspar Homans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941; rpt. 1942, 1960, 1975), pp. 160-76.

362 What shuld I lenger tary. MS: the line begins with two words crossed out.

365-68 The day was comen . . . And my paper it conteyne ne may. Compare The Merchant's Tale (IV[E]1709, 1732-39):
Thus been they wedded with solempnitee. . . .
Hoold thou thy pees, thou poete Marcian,
That writest us that ilke weddyng murie
Of hire Philologie and hym Mercurie,
And of the songes that the Muses songe!
To smal is bothe thy penne, and eek thy tonge,
For to descryven of this mariage.
Whan tendre youthe hath wedded stoupyng age,
Ther is swich myrthe that it may nat be writen.
Or The Squire's Tale (V[F]61, 63-64, 72):
And halt his feeste so solempne and so ryche . . .
Of which if I shal tellen al th'array,
Thanne wolde it occupie a someres day . . . .
Ther nys no man that may reporten al.
371 And. Ha: An.

372-75 Lydgate's amusing account of the husband's indolence and the wife's desire to be fed (line 375) resonates well against Chaucer's presentation of Januarie on his wedding night. Unlike Lydgate's worthi man . . . of age (line 372) old Januarie at least makes a feeble show of virility on his wedding night as he takes May "faste in armes" and "kisseth hire ful ofte" and rubs her face with the "thikke brustles of his berd unsofte," then "laboureth" till day break (see IV[E]1821-42); May, however, finds his playing not "worth a bene" (IV[E]1854). In the next account of his would-be-love-making he is more like Lydgate's old man as he kisses her and then goes to sleep, "and that anon" (IV[E]1946-49). May, however, does not poke his back and ask for it, as in Lydgate; rather she simply settles on Damyan.

378 of a gentle governaunce. MS: word crossed out before gentle.

385 ywroke. The MS reads ywroke, which if it is the authorial reading, would seem to pick up the "sexual intercourse as combat" motif used elsewhere in the poem. However, ywoke, "awakened" is a defensible emendation.

391 As appetyt ran on in hir corage. MS: in hir is preceded by two crossed-out words.

402 turnemente. This is likely another euphemism for sexual intercourse.

404-06 It would appear that December expected either an immediate cure for his three points or, at least, no recrimination until the cures have been effected. He accuses her of breaking their agreement.

406 covenaunt. Ha: covenawt.

414-16 July's remedy for the first point is that no matter how wrathful he gets, she will be more wrathful still. She seems to suggest in lines 418-19 that nothing else will ever cause him to be angry again, because her anger will be so fierce that it will supersede all other possible irritants. Compare the Wife of Bath's treatment of her older husbands and Jankyn.

421-27 The remedy for the second point is that he will not be angry without cause, because she will give him plenty of cause. This may be in reference to how she will act generally or to how she will "cure" his first point. However, the cause may well be the "cure" for the third point, which she is about to explain. List in line 427 is ambiguous. If it means "desire," then the second "cure" will be effected at no specific time. However, if list means "listen, hear," then the last line reads: "When you hear [what I am about to say], you shall have plenty of cause."

435-41 The "cure" for the third point depends upon the idea, expressed in Church doctrine and more generally, that marriage partners must engage in sexual intercourse just as debtors must pay their debts. One alternative might be for the partners to agree to a chaste marriage. December is relieved, remewed (line 437), of his marriage debt to July, because of noun power (line 438) "destitution," which of course refers to the impotence he revealed earlier. This is his third point. But July reasons that the debt can still be paid, if other assets can be liquidated to that end. Therefore, she proposes that December use his considerable other assets, silver, gold, and fee, to hire someone who can pay this particular debt to her in his stead. The "cure" is such that not only will December remain impotent, he will hire his own cuckold as well.

438 noun power. MED defines as "lack of power," "weakness," and "destitution."

444 the might mean "then," in which case it is superfluous. It may well be a textual corruption.

446 that the male so wryes. A common saying; see MED male n.2 (c). However, a pun on male "male, i.e., man" and a reading of so wryes as "but the man so twists" or, perhaps, "is twisted" is not out of the question in this poem. N.b. The Wife of Bath's Prologue: "how soore I hym twiste" (III[C]494). The scribe crosses out two words preceding that the.

447-48 Compare Proserpyne's retort in The Merchant's Tale (IV[E]2265-67):
Now by my moodres sires soule I swere
That I shal yeven hire suffisant answere,
And alle wommen after, for hir sake.
451-52 It seems to be a reference to the marriage debt.

455 Sith not is golde . . . golde doth shyne. Proverbial; see Whiting G282.

456-57 Appeles and peres . . . roten by the core. Proverbial; a variant of "under fair cheer poison is often hid" (Whiting C177).

477-83 The question at the end of this stanza can be interpreted in at least two ways. Who is he in line 481 can be read in a rather vague, generalized way as "who is the one." One might expect she here rather than he, given the actions described in the following line, but he can have vague gender specificity: "tell who is the person who can make you an issue (i.e., a child) and beget you an heir who will not shorten and worsen your life?" The question for the philosopher is rhetorical; no woman, who could fulfil the requirements of line 481, would not also bring about the calamities mentioned in line 482. An alternative interpretation, which can only be sketched here, provides a positive answer to the question. The injunction in lines 477-80 for the old friend to give alms raises the question of bequests and wills, which among the rich, always included considerable benefactions for religious houses and institutions of various kinds, which were considered to be acts of almsgiving. Furthermore, the giving of alms to the poor would often have been done most easily through the offices of a Church institution. And in the first clause in almost all medieval wills the testator bequeathed his soul to Christ. That is, for what is most important, his soul, the old friend does have a true benefactor, Christ who will give him eternal life, in answer to line 483. One might argue further that God the Father answers to the requirements of line 482, since he begat the true issue and heir, his Son, for the old friend's benefit. It seems unnecessary to prove that men of some substance in late medieval England would have been familiar with the formulaic structure of the opening clauses of wills, so the philosopher can afford to be subtle here.

485-87 As seith Seynt Poule . . . . From 1 Corinthians 7:9.

494-95 Compare The Merchant's Tale (IV[E]1562): "Ye shul nat plesen hire fully yeres thre." Deye (line 495) is an unusual noun form for "death."

504 And hardly it shal away. MS: two words crossed out before shal away.

505 Compare Troilus and Criseyde 5.1786 and The Clerk's Tale (IV[E]1177-212, and also lines 1142-76), where the Clerk deflects possible criticism from the Wife of Bath and others for his portrayal of Griselda. The poet realized that his poem will displease women, because it claims that their sole intention in marrying is to acquire goods, even if only a small amount. "Mortal myschaunce" (line 508) may refer to something more than misery and death; the implication may be that women endanger men's souls as well. However, unlike the Clerk, this poet does not try to appease "jolly bodies" by restricting the applicability of his work.

515-16 The poet here attacks those who would accuse him of ribaldry, i.e., lack of decorum and even licentiousness, because of the plainness of his language. Any who make these accusations are to be regarded as hypocrites. Compare The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, lines 725-42, and The Miller's Prologue (I[A]3167-86); however, note that Chaucer coyly abjures responsibility for the language of his poems by claiming that he is only repeating the words of others, while this poet boldly takes responsibility for what he has written.









































































































A philosophre, a good clerk seculer,
Had a frend that sumwhat was aged,
In such tymes as wyttes wex uncler,
Which frend of his was at last encoraged,
By flateres that by plesaunce hym faged,
To have a wif, as happeth oftyn tyme,
Where that regneth this fage, this sory cryme.1

And yet the man wolde his counsel take,
Of his trewe frende, the clerk that I of tolde,
Which was ful fayne feithful counsel to make,
For he was scient, expert, and ful bolde;
And spared nat the man thouh he were olde,
For he set not by his wreth a whistel,
But wrot to hym this esuyng epistel:

Myn olde dere frend, whi aske ye me counsaile
If ye shal wedde to plesaunce of your lif?
Fayn wolde ye wyte, if it were for availe
For you to have a goodly one to wyf, -2
Yong, fressh, and fair, to stynt al maner strif,
To your semyng, and ye be ronne in age,
Which other men calle bondage and dotage.

Take good leyser or thou have mariage.
Be avised on Justynes counsail,
The long cart offte hath hevy cariage.
War Placebo, leave hym for thine avail.
After the knot it helpeth nat to bewail,
Thanne is to late to sey, "If I had wiste";
Thynk on the end thouh never so much thee liste.

Remembre wele on olde January,
Which mayster Chauuceres ful seriously descryveth,
And on fressh May, and how Justyne did vary
Fro Placebo, but yet the olde man wyveth:
Thus sone he wexeth blynde, and than outhryveth
Fro wordly joye, for he sued bad doctryne;
Thenk on Damyan, Pluto, and Proserpyne.

Thenk wisely thus, "I have but yeres fewe,
And feble I am, and febler shal bee.
If it me happe be coupled to a shrewe,
My dayes are done; I may not flyt ne flee.
To shorte my lif and make bonde that was free,
Become prentise and newe to go to scole,
Why shulde I so than were I but a fole?"

Thou seist to me that she is ful demure,
And for thi luf dothe moorne, weep, and sihe;
I say an hauke cometh oftyn unto lure,
Whan that a kyte at al wol not come nyghe;
A curre berketh and fleeth for he is slighe,
The tauht grehound may sone be ledde away,
Weping is wayt vengeable, this no nay.3

Thou answerist me, thou maist none other do;
I sey to thee, thou myhtest if thou wolde;
Thou seist ageyn, constreyned I am therto;
And I sey efte, that many a coke is colde
Which is aged; and many a cok is olde
On the dungehil, and maynteneth al his flokke,
But alle oure eyren comen of the yong cokke.

Thou seist me thus, "Now in my tyme of age,
I am feble, and need good help to have,
To keep my good." I sey, "Thou seist dotage."
Seest thou not ofte a wedowe wed a knave;
And that the good man hadde, that shal he have
At least, the yong that can hym well bestere;4
Thus may thi man at thi pelouh appere.

Is ther no man that thou may on truste
To keep thi good? Is no man trewe at al?
Ful ofte a wif is a broken poste,
And he that leneth may lihtly cache a fal:
One prively she loveth in especial;
Whan the man deieth, ful often tyme is seen,
Riht sone aftyr, ho before loved hath been.

Bethenk on this, the fal of thi colour;
Thy skyn sumtyme was ful, now is it slakke;
For eyen and nose thee nedeth a mokadour
Or sudary; now coorbed is thi bakke,
Or sone shal bene, as pedeler to his pakke;
Thi chekes hangen, thyn eyen wax read as wyne,
And wel belyned with good read tartaryne.5

Thy mone-pynnes bene lyche old yvory:
Here are stumpes feble and her are none,
Holes and gappes ther are inowe; for why
The harpe discordeth, for the pynnes are gone;
Two and thretty made of ful myhti bone,
Which thou had erst, telle weel and see what faileth,
And loke aboute to wive if it availleth.

Loke sone after a potent and spectacle;
Be not ashamed to take hem to thyn ease,
And than to wyving be thou nat racle.
Bewar of hast thouh she behest to please,
For whil she leveth thou lyvest but in disease,
And casteth one to chese to hir delite,
That may better astaunche hir appetite.

And where thou seist thou hast a stomak colde,
Therfore thou must have one to lig thertoo,
For to be sekyr, not to be cokolde,
Hete thi pelow, this counsel I thee to doo,
And no juvencle; for if thou say thus, "Loo,
Yong womman may do more than fyere heet,"
She thynketh thi colde for hir is nothing meet.

Thou tellest me ofte that thouh thou aged be,
Thou hast gret lust and that thou felest wele.
Abated sone may it be, telle I thee,
Sone hast thou done, it is not worth a dele:
Ful esily thou may thi corage kele.
Be nat to hasty to venge thee on thi foo,
Rise up, go walk, and than is al agoo.

Thou seist thou haddyst in yong age wantounesse,
Therfore in olde age thee nedith have trewe spousaill.
Canst thou no better come to holynesse,
Than lese thiself al for a tikeltayll?
Ful wery wil she be for hir avayll,
For lust and good, if summe better can pay,
Whereby she bideth thi passage every day.

War the siknesse that called is the pank,
A terme of court for the tide bitte no man,6
A maladie called "male de flank,"
A bocche that nedeth a good cirurgian;
And but he be, she wol have men that can,7
That hath the crafte and the kunnyng pure,
To make a parfytt and a redy cure.

Thou tolde me, frende, I herd it of thiself,
That thou kneuhest one, nameles of me as nowh,
Unsatisfied a day in tymes twelf,
Whan twelve plowmen ered at the plowh.
She had sikenesse, I wot not where nen houh,
But thou calledest it the fevere of the crevil,
Nyne tyme a nyhte she had the wicked evyl.

Put nat the wyte of this tale upon me,
That I forged it upon my hed,
For I herd it first of al of thee,
And than of othere ful ofte in many a steed.
Many an Ave, and many an hooly beed,
Myht thou say, and praye for them may,
If thou myht wynne so fair a weddyng day.

Thi lusty leapes of thi coragious age,
Thei are agoo, thi rennyng and thi trippes,
In thi forehed fele Fridayes, this no fage,8
Farwele the rudde that was upon thi lippes;
Unweldy wol thei be, both knees and hippes,
Fele wel thyself, and parceyve every dele,
For wommans eye al this parceyveth well.

Thei can ful wele aspye in every syde,
He bereth a name of godes and richesse;
Thouh she be yong, yet wol she wele abide
Uncoupled to a fressh man of junesse
And take a buffard riche of gret vilesse,
In hope that he shal sterve withynne a while,
After to have a yong one al by gyle.

Than is ther crafte, whan she begynne to feyne
As thowh she loved the olde man al of herte.
Halseth and kisseth and wol him not with-seyne,
But flatereth fast that goode now nat asterte
But she have al; than thouh he be nat querte,
But turn up too and caste his clook away:
That is to sey, she careth nat thouh he dey.

She wol thee chastise, if thou love honesté,
Voydyng slaundre, wyte thee of gelousye;9
Doute nat than but rebuked shalt thou be,
She wol make men wonder on thi bodye;
Liche confessoures thei wil rown pryvelye10
With other men, as it were gret counsail,
Long and often; war than the countertaile.11

Wenest thou nat ther wol be mekil stryve
Who shal have maistrie and the sovereynté?
By trewe conquest, betwix thee and thi wife,
Who shal prevail? Forsothe it wol be she!
Elles pease and rest out of thine hous shal fle,
And mydnythe, matynes, evensong, prime, and houres,
She wol thee syng and weep, sharp are thoo shoures!

And yet summe wyves wol fallen to consent
Men to be maistres, so wommen have her will;
That must nede be, or elles harm shal be hent.
The husband must his wyves wille fulfill;
And whoso geveth counsel but not thertille,
She maketh hym werer, for sume haten ful sore
Such as ther husbondes loven and no man more.12

Ther was a wife that seven husbandes hadde,
And for six she wepte nat whan thei deied;
But for the sevent she wept and was ful sadde,
Wherefore hir neighbures merveyled, and hir preied
To telle the cause, and thus to hem she seied, -
"I may wele weep and cause I have therto
To care and moorne, with me standeth so:

"Of six husbandes whan thei were on bere,
Was never none that passed unto grave,
But I was purveied, whil he lyved here,
Of a newe one; but now, so God me save!
I am onpurveyed, and wot never whom to have;
Thus must I moorne, for I am destitute,
For now no man to me maketh ony sute!"

Lo! lo! my frend, take tent to this womman
That sex tymes had such purveyaunce
Siker betymes, as many of them can,
And namely in this case of chevysaunce.
Make thou no doute but thou may leed the daunce
Of Makabre, and the menewhile thi wife
Is syker of such as she loved in thi life.

She wol perhappous maken hir avowe
That she wol take the mantle and the ryng
Whil thou levest, whan she knoweth wel ynowe,
Thou shalt be dede and have thi buryeng;
But yet she taketh the man and eek the thynge,
And hir husband disceyveth - allas! meschaunce! -
Til she be siker of goode to hir pleasaunce.

Thi wif wol be ful wyly, douht it nouhte,
She loketh aboute whil thou lyvest here
Where hir acquytaunce is; it shal be souhte,
Most goodly persone, most leve and dere,
That hir best liketh; and whan thou art on bere,
She thynketh wel that one is yet alyve
That she mowe truste wol have hir unto wyve.

Thus is she redy, whanever it shal befall,
Ther is hir mynde til mariage be made.
Par case thi men in mynde she kepeth hem all.
Perhappous one is loved that wol not fade;
She cherissheth hym, to hym hir hert is glade.
He bideth, she bideth, at last the knot is knyt,
Thei have thi good; lewde man, wher is thi wytte?

Puraventure thou hatest thi servaunt,
Puraventure thi wife she loveth hym best,
Puraventure with good she wol hym daunt.
And meryly he shal slepe in thy nest;
Whan thou art dead, in thi bed shal he rest;
And he and she shal have lond, fee, and foode:
Avaunt, rebel, of thy sore goten goode!

He is a persone, she thynketh, of fair figure, -
A yong rotour, redy to hir pleasier;
Hyr eyen she fyxeth on hym, this is ful sure,
And lokketh hym in hir herte hoote as fier, -
And seeth the olde, hir colde and cowherand syer;
Thou gost thi ways into a fer cuntré,
Thi lewde servaunt thi successour shal be.

She wol ordeyn by menes ful dyvers,
That the kyng, or som gret lord, shal wryte
To hir lettres, hir hert ful sore to pers,
Coriously and craftly to endyte
For hym, to whom was hir appetite
Beforn goven, peraventure, many a day,
Askauns she may nat to the lettres sey nay.

This is the wyle of the womman wyly,
For she wol have hir wille at al hir lust;
Thou wenest wel but she is ful gyly, -
Thou art deceyved whanne thou best gynnest to trust;
Thou thynkest hir pollisshed whan she is ful of rust.
Whil thou art here in hert she cherissheth other,
As thouhe it were hir cosyn or hir brother.

But be wel ware of feyned cosynage,
And gossiprede, and myght of mayntenaunce,13
And lordes lettres, and ravisshing, and rage,
For these are coloures and menes of myschaunce,
Wherby thi wife shal have to hir pleasaunce
One or other, such as she list to have
In dyverse wise, whan thou art gone to grave.

To make herof a confirmacioun,
Lo! here a tale, and prynte it in thi mynde,
Of a riche man who, by commoun relacioun,
Had gret power and myhte, both lose and bynde,14   
In his cuntree; yet, after cours of kynde,
He was aged, and drouhe unto dotage,
As olde men done that drawe to mariage.

At last ther was one aspied oute,
Goodly of port, that had experience
Wel of the world, that semed ful devoute,
Humble, sobre, nortured with reverence, -
A fair womman, save that indigence
She was sumdele; that is for to say,
She was nat riche and she was nat to gay.

This man was called Decembre of name,
And gan to feble moch as age it wolde,
But the woman kept hir out of blame
Ful wilyly, riht lusty, and not olde;
Hir name was July, hardly she was not colde
By cause of age, and feat was hir array,
And after good she longed nyht and day.

He had knowlage of hir bi his espyes,
And gat leiser to se hir prevylye,
And spak with hir ynowh onys or twyes,
And askid hir if she myht feithfullie
Luf hym of herte, and morover, fynallye
Become his wife, by spousayle fortunate,
Notwithstandyng his richesse and estate.

And with that worde she fel ful humbely
Unto the grounde, and seid, "Wold God of myht
I had be born, by influence hevenly,
So fortunate, that I myht of riht
Do trewe servyce, as ancille ever in siht
Unto hir lord, and spare for non age,
Which was never apt to such a mariage!15

"For to be coupled to so hih astate
I am unable, I am not apt thereto
So to presume, but that erly and late
It sitteth me wele in other wise to do;
That if ye had a wife, yf it were so,
That gelousye wold not me disdeyne,
I wolde hir serve and you and hir obeyne."

Whan this was seide, his hert began to melt,
For veray sweme of this swemeful tale;
Aboute his hert he thoughte he gan to swelt,
So loved he hir, he wex bothe colde and pale;
And from his eyen the terys fel cleere and smale,
As aged men wol lightly weep for routhe,
And seid, "My luf, gramercy, up my trouthe,

"Save for thre thinges that I am gylty inne,
Shulde never erdely thyng maw make me lette,
But that I wolde our mariage begynne,
Which thre thynges have me aside so sette
Fro al spousail with whech never yet I mette,
So that as yet alle wedlok I denye,
For which thre thynges I can no remedye."

"No remedy," quod she, "God it forbede,
That were mervail and a wonder thyng;
Unto a sore with salve men must take hede,
And for sikenesse men medycyne must bryng.
I praye you, lorde, yf it be your likyng,
Telle me alle thre, and a confortatif
And remedye I shal make, up my lif."

And with this worde he wex glad in his hert,
And wex mery and bolde to telle alle oute,
As Sampson did, whil he was hole and quert,
When Dalida compassed hym aboute,
That Philistees ran in upon a route,
And for al strengthe that Gad gaf hym before,
Thei hym captived, whereby he was y-lore.

This man for trust of femynyne promysse
Wolde telle out alle, in semblable wise,
"Forsothe," quod he, "two thynges ther been amysse
That I wol telle, bene of a sory syse:
I am sone wroth and angry, this my guyse;
The secund is ful wroth withoutyn cause.
These tweyne foul thynges are closid in a clause."

Quod she, "Good lorde, can ye no remedye
For these two poyntes, that bene easy and smale?
In good feith, sire, I cane ful sone aspye
Salve for such sores; she is a feble female,
That lakketh such read; good lorde, telle on your tale
Of your thrid poynt, myn herte mery to make,
And up my soule I shal al undirtake."

"The thridde," quod he, "nay, I may not for shame."
"Why, sir," quod she, "seith on, upon my life."
"Forsothe," quod he, "as touchynge chambre game,
It were ful hard for me to have a wife;
But I were able, we shuld ever stond in strife,
And wel I wote that I am impotent.
Thus must I nedes, allas! be contynent."

And with that worde she cauht hym in hir armes
And halsed hym and kissed hym ful swete;
Lo! suche bene the wyly wommens charmes,
And with his berde he frusshed hir mouthe unmete.
Thus sone agen she fel doun at his fete,
And seide, "Dere lorde, this is the laste of alle
Your seid thre poyntes, that miht hereaftyr falle?"

"Ya," quod he. "Ya, syr, upon my feith,"
Quod she, "drede nat; I undertake these thre;
Chiefly of alle for the thrid poynt," she seith,
"I make warant, for ful onwise is she
That cannot counsel in such juparté.
Myn own dere lorde, take me unto your grace,
To stande in favoure of your weel-favoured face."

"Now than," quod he, "in this condicion,
To you, dere herte, my veray trouth I pliht
As to my spouse." And, withoute more sermone,
Thei drouhe handes, as wedding asketh of riht;
What shuld I lenger tary? Soone was diht
Al that wedlok asketh and spowsayles,
Al was redy to plesaunt apparailes.

The day was comen of the solempnyté;
What shulde I speke of the feest and array?
It were to gret a laboure unto me,
And my paper it conteyne ne may;
But that at laste forth passed was the day,
And nyht cam on, and ech man took his leve,
And unto bed them must whan it was eve.

The worthi man, as it cam hym of age,
He toke a slepe; al nyhte he was in rest
With wery bones, but his wife of corage
Wolde have be fed, as brid in the nest.
She het his bak, to halse hym thouht hir best,
But al for nouht was al hir contenaunce,
The man was of a gentle governaunce.

And a man of sadde religioun,
He kept the nyhte in peas and silence;
He brak no covenaunt nen condicioun,
That he with hir made first by his prudence,
But sobrely he kept his contynence.
I dare wel sey ther was no speke y-broke,
Nor wrestelyng wherby he was y-wroke.

But also pleyn was his bedde at the morwe
As at even, so was he nortured wele,
But the womman was woo, I dare be borwe,
For cherisshyng was withdrawe every dele;
She was hungry and wold have had hir mele,
As appetyt ran on in hir corage,
For she smelled flesshe, thouhe it was of age.

Whan it was day and liht the chambre spradde,
She hir bethouht and seide, "Good syr, awake."
She rogged on hym, and was nothyng adradde,
And badde hym turne hym for his wives sake.
"What, syr," quod she, "wol ye no merthes make
Of cherisshyng, as other men doon alle,
When such neightes of mariage befalle?"

He turned hym and herd al hir entente,
Merveillyng that she such mater meved.
Not disposed to ony turnemente,
He was agast, and in hert was agreved.
"What, wife!" quod he, "I wend I had beleved
And myht have trusted to your thre remedyes
And trewe covenaunt, withoute flateryes."

"Flateries!" quod she, "Nay, syr, not soo,
It is of ernest that I to you seid;
I wol you tell, or that ye ferther goo,
Al that I mente, I am nothing dismayd.
I have you nat begyled nen betrayd.
As to your poyntes thre, thynges spoken in fere,
I shal rehersen pleynly myne answere.

"Ye seide to me that ye wolde sone be wroth,
I seide ageyn I cowde a remedye;
That is to sey, be ye never so loth,
I wol myself be moch more angrye;
Sette one agens anothre hardilye,
And se aboute of that that may you greve,
For I gef nat of al that wreth may meve.16

"And where ye sey ye wol be wroth also
Withouten cause, hardily it shal not nede.
Ye shal have cause ynouh where so ye go,
In thouht and worde ye shal not faile indede!
How long agoo lerned ye, Crist crosse me spede!
Have ye no more lernyd of youre a b c?
Whan that ye list ye shal have cause plenté.

"To the thrid poynt of which ye gan to meve,
That was grettest to your jugement,
And me thouht it, if ye wol me beleve,
It the leste of alle that were y-ment;
Of chambre werk we carped of assent,
And wel ye wote by holy chirches lawe,
Dette must be payd by oth, soth is this sawe.

"But good fayre sir, God hath you endued
With gret richesse, silver, gold, and fee,
That if payment of dette be so remewed
For noun power that it wol not be,
Ye may, by godes of your prosperyté,
Hire one that may fulfille al that in dede;
Thus shal we never lak help at al oure nede.

"Was this your wytte?" quod the cely man,
"Ya, sir," quod she, "these oure remedies,
Now also mot I thryve." And the saide he than,
"I cannat se, for alle wittes and espies,
And craft and kunnyng, but that the male so wryes,
That no kunnyng may prevail and appere
Agens a wommans wytt and hir aunswere."

"Allas," quod he, "this is an insolible;
If I strogel, slaundred shal I be;
To satisfye it is but impossible:
It may not be parformed as for me.
What eyled me, lord, maryed for to be,
Or for to trust to promysse femynyne,
Sith not is golde al that as golde doth shyne.

"Appeles and peres that semen very gode,
Ful ofte tyme are roten by the core.
I myht be ware, if I hadde not be wode,
Of Adam, Sampson, and other me before;
Davyd, Salamon, in liche wyse were y-lore;
Eve, Dalida, beauteous Bersabé,
And concubynes, they myht have warned me.

"But now ther is no more to saye,
I se Dame July must nedes haf hir wille!
If I dissente, and if I make affray,
I have the wers, thouhe I have rihte and skylle;
I must hir wille agens my wylle fulfille,
Evyr leve in shame, and that is al my woo,
Farewele, fortune, my joye is al agoo!"

Nowe is this tale done, and brouhte to ende,
Of Januaries brother, and olde Decembre,
And of Dame July; wherefore, myn olde dere frende,
This counseil I, that ye you wol remembre,
That if ye mowe chastise your carnal membre.
For to leve soul and keep you contynent,
Ne weddeth not at al be myn assent.

And as for yssu and heyres to youre goode,
Ther are ynowe, thouh ye have none at alle,
Selle youre godes for coigne that is to goode,
Do almesse dedes where nede is speciall;
And elles, my frende, sey who is he that shall
Make you yssu and begete you an heyr,
That ye your lif ne shorte nen yt appeyr?

And he that may not keep hym contynent,
As seith Seynt Poule, lat hym wedded be;
For better is rather than to be brent
To be wedded. But, frend, I trowe that ye
Have no more nede to such fragilité
In this youre age, if ye wel discerne,
Than hath a blynde man of a briht lanterne.

And ever thynk wel on this proverb trewe,
Remembring on age by ony weye,
That veray dotage in olde age wol thee sewe,
That the first yere wedlokk is called pleye,
The second, dreye, and the thrid yere, deye.
This is a mery lif to have amonge;
It is ful fayre, if ye abide so longe.

This is the ende of trewe relacioun:
If thou wol wedde, and so be sette amys,
If thou therto have gret temptacioun,
Lifte up thyn handes, and with thi fingres blysse
And praye to God, that thou mut thenk on this
Litel lessoun, and keepe it in thi mynde,
And hardly it shal away as wynde.


Go, pety quaier, and war where thou appere,
In aunter that thou tourne unto displesaunce
Of joly bodies, that labouren fer and neer
To bryng olde men to her mortal myschaunce
To that entente: that after variaunce
Fro lif to deth, withinne a litle stounde,
By sotyl crafte, a morsel or pitaunce,
A rustiler shal sone be redy founde.

Thy wordes, quayer, ar trewe, this no dowte,
Wherbi wise men, if thei wol, may be ware
And for popholy and vyce loke wel aboute,
That rybaudy wol calle thi wordes bare.
Laboure thiself for to kepe out of snare
Cely dotardes, lat this be thyne entent;
Farewel and worcke as ferforthe as thou dare,
That life and godes take none abreggement.

scholar (priest); (see note)

(see note)

flatterers; flattered



In your judgment, if; getting on

(see note)
The big wagon often has [the] heavy load; (see note)

though it pleases you little

Chaucer; (see note)

worldly; followed

unless I were; fool

(see note)

cur barks; sly
tightly bound

do nothing else

cock; (see note)


possessions; a foolish word
young servant

servant; pillow appear

easily; (see note)


a type of handkerchief
face towel; stooped


enough; therefore; (see note)
tuning pegs

before, count; is missing
affords help

crutch; eye glass

not hasty
haste though; promise
remains; discomfort
[she] plots
satisfy; (see note)

(see note)
young woman; whereas; (see note)


desire cool
(see note)
gone (dispersed)

(see note)

lose; loose woman
attentive; advantage
awaits; death

(see note)

a pain in the groin or abdomen
swelling; surgeon


knew; now
know; nor

imagined it in

Ave Maria; prayer
pray by means of; (see note)

capers (skips)



He [who]

Unattached; youth; (see note)
stupid buffoon; old age
through [her] cleverness

Hugs; contradict
possessions; escape
Until; then; healthy; (see note)
turn up [his] toes

(see note)

Do you not expect; great; (see note)

(see note)
those showers

incline; (see note)
as long as; their
wife's desire

(see note)

[it] stands so with me

bier; (see note)


unprovided [for]; know

give a thought to
Certainly early enough
provision (arrangement)


make a solemn promise
(see note)
remain; enough; (see note)

nevertheless; possessions


acquittance (satisfaction); sought
pleases her most; bier


Perchance; (see note)



(see note)
Begone; evil; (see note)

one who plays the rote

boils; cowering sire

(see note)


Pretending that

expect; guileful

(see note)

forcible abduction; horseplay
tricks; trouble


hear; imprint; (see note)

grew old; drew
move toward

spied; (see note)

except that [of] poverty; (see note)

began to become feeble much as age requires
And; disgrace


enough once; twice

(see note)

It becomes me well

Who would not scorn me because of jealousy

sorrow; piteous
grow faint

easily; pity

earthly; be able to; forbear

do without

take care



[So] that; crowd

in the same manner

[that] be of a sorry kind
quickly wrathful; nature

brief statement


council; (see note)




rubbed; exceedingly; (see note)

hereafter occur

take up

guarantee; unwise

(see note)
accomplished; (see note)
wedding festivities

(see note)

document (writing page)

(see note)

being old; (see note)
went to sleep
sexual desire

hit; embrace
self-discipline; (see note)


word spoken
avenged; (see note)

as undisturbed

(see note)

light; spread throughout


tournament; (see note)

(see note)

agreement; deceptions; (see note)



(see note)

(see note)
it shall not be necessary


referred to
spoke of mutual agreement

provided; (see note)
movable property
destitution; (see note)


as I may prosper; (see note)
[my] powers of observation
the thing turns out; (see note)
do harm; (see note)

(see note)

(see note)

(see note)

have been mindful; crazed

a similar way; lost



may discipline
remain alone; chaste
would be my opinion

issue; heirs; possessions; (see note)

nor make worse

(see note)

(see note)
trouble; death

purpose; account

be allowed

scarcely it shall disappear; (see note)

little book; beware; (see note)
In case

purpose; change
short time

a little bit


both for hypocrisy (pope holy); (see note)
ribaldry; plain


John Lydgate (?), Prohemy of a Mariage betwixt an Olde Man and a Yonge Wife, and the Counsail, Select Bibliography

[The initial editing of this poem was done by Mary Elizabeth Ellzey and Douglas Moffatt.]


British Library MS Harley 372, fols. 45a-51a (1440-60).


Halliwell, James Orchard. A Selection from the Minor Poems of Dan John Lydgate. London: Printed for the Percy Society by C. Richards, 1840. Pp. 27-46. [Under the title Advice to an Old Gentleman Who Wished for a Young Wife. The work was first printed by Caxton as The Complainte of Them That Ben To Late Maryed.]