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The Wright's Chaste Wife


1 Another beat it with swingles (wooden flails) to separate the fine fibers from the pulp


Abbreviations: F: Frederick J. Furnivall, ed., The Wright's Chaste Wife; MS: Lambeth Palace Library MS 306, fols. 178a-187a.

Incipit A fable of a wryght that was maryde to a pore wydows dowtre / the whiche wydow havyng noo good to geve with her / gave as for a precyous Johelle to hym a Rose garlond / the whyche she affermyd wold never fade while she kept her wedlok.

1-9 Conventional exhortation to listen also found in Middle English romances and Breton lays. Such requests remind an audience of the inherent orality of medieval literary genres as well as the patronage of my sovereyns (line 2).

10 wryght. This term is usually taken to mean carpenter such as John in Chaucer's The Miller's Tale or others of more divine ranking including Joseph, elderly husband of the Virgin Mary, and Jesus himself. However, as John DuVal points out, "wright" can also signify a working man in the generic sense. "This is the only name given him in the poem. He is a worker at anything. Although the work he does in this poem is skilled carpentry and masonry, he does not scorn peasantry work either" (p. 9):



Or erthely man hadde he no dowte,
To werke hows, harowe, nor plowgh,
Or other werkes, what so they were
Thous wrought he hem farre and nere.
    (Lines 14-17)
pickaxes (hoes), harrow; plow
no matter what
them far
Note, however, that in line 586 his wife is referred to as the "carpentarys wyfe."

15 werke hows. I have glossed hows as pickaxes (hoes), to go with harrowing and plowing. But the sense of the phrase might also be "build a house," which suits a wright's skills well, but is less congruent with his other skills.

20 Like Chaucer's carpenter in The Miller's Tale, the wright prefers to wed late in life.

26-27 As tyme comyth of alle thyng, / So seyth the profesye. A proverbial expression, "there is a time for everything," cited also in William Caxton's Ovyde in 1480 and probably comes ultimately from Ecclesiastes 3:1. See Bartlett Jere Whiting, with the collaboration of Helen Wescott Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly Before 1500 (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), T320.

43 wyfe. There may be a link between the word "wife" (wife or woman) and weaving since "to wifeth" or "to weave" in Old English becomes "to wife"; also spinning was considered a female occupation. The OED defines wife as a woman "formerly in general sense; in later use restricted to a woman of humble rank or 'of low employment,' especially one engaged in the sale of some commodity." Examples given are "ale-wife," "apple-wife," " fishwife," and "oyster-wife."

52 garlond. The garland of roses as a chastity test is rather unusual compared with the extent of the tradition belonging to drinking horns and mantles. See the New Arthurian Encyclopedia, ed. Norris J. Lacy (New York: Garland, 1996), pp. 81-83. Nuptial garlands minus the chastity test, however, were an ancient custom carried on in England in the late Middle Ages. In Chaucer's The Second Nun's Tale, both husband and wife receive garlands to signify their spiritual marriage.

55 roses ryche. According to George Ferguson's Signs & Symbols in Christian Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), the red rose is a symbol of martyrdom while the white rose is a symbol of purity. "St. Ambrose relates how the rose came to have thorns: Before it became one of the flowers of the earth, the rose grew in Paradise without thorns. Only after the fall of man did the rose take on its thorns to remind man of the sins he had committed and his fall from grace; whereas its fragrance and beauty continued to remind him of the splendor of Paradise. It is probably in reference to this legend that the Virgin Mary is called a 'rose without thorns,' because of the tradition that she was exempt from the consequences of original sin. . . . Wreaths of roses worn by angels, saints, or by human souls who have entered into heavenly bliss are indications of heavenly joy" (p. 48).

61 putry. The MED defines putry as prostitution, lechery, adultery. Chaucer's Parson adds "bawdry":
What seye we eek of putours that lyven by the horrible synne of putrie, and constreyne wommen to yelden hem a certeyn rente of hire bodily puterie, ye, somtyme of his owene wyf or his child, as doon thise bawdes? (X[I]886)
Putours are pimps, procurers, fornicators (MED).

68 to layne. F glosses layne as "hide, conceal" (p. 21), the sense being "there's no hiding the fact." The phrase is commonly used as an interjection, comparable to "indeed," "truly." See MED leinen v. (c).

71 And hyld her brydalle dayes thre. Since marriage was a public event, it would not be unusual to celebrate it over a three-day period.

86 plaster of Parys. Sulphate of lime or gypsum which has undergone calcination. The early association of plaster with the city of Paris is described by John Trevisa in his translation of Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon, ed. Churchill Babington, vol. 1, Rolls Series (London, Longman, Green, 1865), p. 271: "Bysides Parys is greet plente of a maner stoon that hatte gypsus and is i-cleped white plaister." Trevisa defines plaster under De cemento:



Cement is lyme, sond, and water ytempred togidre and ymedlid. And such medlyng is most nedeful to ioyne stones togidre and to pergette and to whitelyme walles. In peyntures and colours of walles þe ferste ground and chief to fonge colours is cement, and cleueþ to wete walls, and nameliche if it is plastre [or s]perstone. For as Isider seiþ, þe beste cement ymade of alle stoones is of þe flynt stoone oþer of plastre þat is icalled gypsum, þe which stoon schyneþ as it were glas.


See On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa's Translation of De Propriatatibus Rerum, vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), p. 839.

106 lord lett sende. The lord is the first of the three - a lord, a steward, and a proctor - to be involved in the test. See F on the numerous analogues to the tale, especially a Gesta Romanorum version, where the three knights are equated with "the pride of life, the lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh" (p. vii). See also W. A. Clauston's essay on "additional analogues" to the tale that F prints at the end of his edition (pp. 25-39).

109 Woult thou have thi wyfe. This brilliantly ambiguous line, to which the wright makes no reply, suggests: 1) the lord's desire (largess?) to accommodate the carpenter; 2) the lord's interest in the carpenter's wife, so characteristic of fabliau settings; 3) an implicit challenge to the wright's dominion, especially after the lord learns the meaning of the "garlond" (line 121). Have can mean "be with," "possess," "enjoy"; but it can also mean to cuckold rather than to invite her to be with her husband. The court challenge among men to dominate women by testing their obedience is a common literary trope. Compare the contest between Collatin and Arrons that costs Lucrece her life (in Gower's Confessio Amatis 7.4754-5123) or the more benign obedience tests in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. It is perhaps this context that allows the lord's wife to be so understanding of the wright's wife when she finds her husband trapped in the wife's cellar. Likewise, she is non-judgmental of her husband, as if to say, "That's just the way men are."

148 fare. "A plan of action or demeanor"; but it might also be glossed as "gifts," material goods he has hoped to beguile her with, which she tells him to put aside.

157 Forty marke. The symbolic value of "forty" is hinted at here. Symbolic of a period of protection or trial, it recalls the Israelites' ordeal in the wilderness for forty years, bondage to the Philistines, Moses' sojourn on Mt. Sinai, the duration of the rain at the time of the Flood, and Christ's trial in the desert. The drop into the pit, a rather symbolic fall in itself, measures forty feet.

158 gold so rede. MS: gold rede. I have added so for meter and because of the commonness of the phrase. Red gold is more valuable than yellow gold.

208 seynt charyté. Since there is no saint of this name, what is probably being invoked is charity as a theological virtue. Together with faith and hope it forms a triumvirate of virtues to which all Christians were expected to aspire. Spenser makes an allegorical figure of Charity in The Faerie Queene.

245 thrafe. A bundle of wheat, straw, or, in this case, flax, containing twelve or twenty-four sheaves.

324 fers. F adds a final -e.

338 Fulle clere, and nothing thycke. The lord is proud of how he has done the jobs assigned to him. The thread is clear of particles of hemp and of a consistent thickness, ready for spinning.

373 The stuard satt alle in a stody. The steward is amazed that his social superior should not demonstrate courtesy, a means by which social class was imagined to be defined in part, and share his hard-won meal.

469-77 The proctor is more surprised by the chores in which his fellow inmates are engaged than by the fact that he has just been duped into a humiliating position.

503 rocke. A distaff "held in the hand from which thread was spun by twirling a ball below" (F, p. 21).

508 hynde. F glosses as "natty." The word is apparently a form of hende, which has a wide variety of meanings (see MED) from courtly terms such as "noble, gentle, courteous, refined" to more practical senses, such as "valuable, helpful, clever, crafty, well-made, and handy (i.e., available, near at hand)." The latter usages seem more plausible here.

515 The proctor is assigned the spinning, a job done exclusively by women. The beating of the flax or hemp was occasionally done by men.

527 swyngelyd. The first of three parts of the preparation of flax for spinning. To swingle is to beat the flax in order to remove the coarse particles still clinging to the fibers. The fibers are then heckled (combed) or scutched and "knocked" (bundled) in preparation for spinning fine linen. The poet places the knocking before the swingling. Perhaps he imagines that the flax is first bundled (knocked) and then beaten (swingled), though that would go against the flailing process which is normally done on a threshing floor.

528 swyngylle tre. Made of wood, these implements resemble swords and are used for beating and scraping raw flax or hemp.

560 snowte. According to the MED when referring to a human nose, the term is often used derisively. See Chaucer's The Shipman's Tale: "What! Yvel thedam on his monkes snowte" (VII[B2]1595). In The Wright's Chaste Wife it is used to describe a facial expression.

593 The wife is not guilty of prostitution because she had no intention of entering into the arrangement. She is not complicit in their intent to commit adultery.

596 I have thynges to do att home. The lady is industrious, too; like the chaste wife, she objects to having her work interrupted by her wayward husband.

620 Thys seyd Adam of Cobsam. The name is commonly taken to be that of the author.

623-24 The lord and lady's stopping in the woods to listen to the birds suggests a return to natural harmony after the lord's aberrant and humiliating behavior.

631 ff. Chastity in the sense of fidelity apparently pays. The lady gives all the money to the wright's chaste wife. The definition of chastity in the Middle Ages was ambiguous: it could mean purity from unlawful sexual intercourse, abstinence from all sexual intercourse or ceremonial purity. Here it is used in the sense of unlawful sexual intercourse, though it is not clear whether the marriage between the wright and his wife has been consummated. Conceivably theirs is a "chaste" or "spiritual" marriage which was used by late medieval authorities, according to Dyan Elliott "to designate a union in which the individuals were true to their marriage vows"; they agreed to abstain from sexual relations. See Dyan Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock, p. 4. Chaucer's Cecilia and her husband in The Second Nun's Tale agree to such living arrangements in fiction; Margery Kempe and her husband also negotiate the issue.









































































































































Allemyghty God, maker of all,
Save you my sovereyns in towre and hall,
And send you good grace!
If ye wylle a stounde blynne,
Of a story I wylle begynne,
And telle you alle the cas,
Meny farleyes that I have herde
Ye would have wondyr how yt ferde;
Lystyn, and ye schalle here;
Of a wryght I wylle you telle
That some tyme in thys land gan dwelle,
And lyved by hys myster.
Whether that he were yn or oute,
Or erthely man hadde he no dowte,
To werke hows, harowe, nor plowgh,
Or other werkes, what so they were
Thous wrought he hem farre and nere,
And dyd tham wele inough.
Thys wryght would wedde no wyfe,
Butt yn yougeth to lede hys lyfe
In myrthe and othre melody;
Over alle where he gan wende,
Alle they seyd, "Welcome, frende,
Sytt downe, and do gladly."
Tylle on a tyme he was wyllyng,
As tyme comyth of alle thyng,
So seyth the profesye,
A wyfe for to wedde and have
That myght hys goodes kepe and save,
And for to leve alle foly.
Ther dwellyd a wydowe in that contré
That hadde a doughter feyre and fre;
Of her, word sprang wyde,
For sche was bothe stabylle and trewe,
Meke of maners, and feyre of hewe -
So seyd men in that tyde.
The wryght seyde, "So God me save,
Such a wyfe would I have
To lye nyghtly by my syde."
He thought to speke wyth that may,
And rose erly on a daye
And thyder gan he to ryde.
The wryght was welcome to the wyfe,
And her saluyd alle so blyve,
And so he dyd her doughter fre:
For the erand that he for came
Tho he spake, that good yemane,
Than to hym seyd sche.
The wydow seyd, "By heven kyng,
I may geve wyth her nothing.
And that forthynketh me,
Save a garlond I wylle thee geve,
Ye schalle never see, whyle ye lyve,
None such in thys contré.
Have here thys garlond of roses ryche,
In alle thy lond ys non yt lyche,
For ytt wylle ever be newe;
Wete thou wele withowtyn fable,
Alle the whyle thy wyfe ys stable
The chaplett wolle hold hewe;
And yf thy wyfe use putry,
Or tolle eny man to lye her by,
Than wolle yt change hewe,
And by the garlond thou may see,
Fekylle or fals yf that sche be,
Or ellys yf sche be trewe."
Of thys chaplett hym was fulle fayne,
And of hys wyfe, was nott to layne,
He weddyd her fulle sone,
And ladde her home wyth solempnité,
And hyld her brydalle dayes thre.
Whan they home come,
Thys wryght in hys hart cast,
If that he walkyd est or west
As he was wonte to done,
"My wyfe that ys so bryght of ble
Men wolle desyre here fro me,
And that hastly and sone";
Butt sone he hym bythought
That a chambyr schuld be wrought
Bothe of lyme and stone,
Wyth wallys strong as eny stele,
And dorres sotylly made and wele,
He owte framyd yt sone;
The chambyr he lett make fast,
Wyth plaster of Parys that wylle last,
Such ous know I never none.
Ther ys kyng ne emperoure,
And he were lockyn in that towre,
That cowde gete owte of that wonne.
Nowe hathe he done as he thought,
And in the myddes of the flore wrought
A wondyr strange gyle,
A trapdoure rounde abowte
That no man myght come yn nor owte;
It was made wyth a wyle,
That whoso touchyd yt eny thyng,
Into the pytt he schuld flyng
Wythyn a lytylle whyle.
For hys wyfe he made that place,
That no man schuld beseke her of grace,
Nor her to begyle.

By that tyme the lord of the towne
Hadde ordeynyd tymbyr redy bowne
An halle to make of tre.
After the wryght the lord lett sende
For that he schuld wyth hym lende
Monythys two or thre.
The lord seyd, "Woult thou have thi wyfe?   
I wylle send after her blyve
That sche may com to thee."
The wryght hys garlond hadde take wyth hym,
That was bryght and nothing dymme,
Yt wes feyre on to see.
The lord axyd hym as he satt,
"Felowe, where hadyst thou this hatte
That ys so feyre and newe?"
The wryght answerd alle so blyve,
And seyd, "Syr, I hadde yt wyth my wyfe,
And that dare me nevere rewe;
Syr, by my garlond I may see
Fekylle or fals yf that sche be,
Or yf that sche be trewe;
And yf my wyfe love a paramoure,
Than wylle my garlond vade coloure,
And change wylle yt the hewe."
The lord thought, "By Godys myght,
That wylle I wete thys same nyght
Whether thys tale be trewe."
To the wryghtys howse anon he went,
He fonde the wyfe therin presente,
That was so bryght and schene;
Sone he hayled her trewly,
And so dyd sche the lord curtesly:
Sche seyd, "Welcome ye be";
Thus seyd the wyfe of the hows,
"Syr, howe faryth my swete spowse
That hewyth uppon youre tre?"
"Sertes, dame," he seyd, "wele,
And I am come, so have I hele,
To wete the wylle of thee;
My love ys so uppon thee cast
That me thynketh my hert wolle brest,
It wolle none otherwyse be;
Good dame, graunt me thy grace
To pley with thee in some prevy place
For gold and eke for fee."
"Good syr, lett be youre fare,
And of such wordes speke no mare
For Hys love that dyed on Tre;
Hadde we onys begonne that gle,
My husbond by his garlond myght see;
For sorowe he would wexe woode."
"Certes, dame," he seyd, "naye;
Love me, I pray you, in that ye maye:
For Godys love change thy mode,
Forty marke schalle be youre mede
Of sylver and of gold so rede,
And that schalle do thee good."
"Syr, that deed schalle be done;
Take me that mony here anone."
"I swere by the holy Rode
I thought when I cam hyddere
For to bryng yt alle togyddere,
As I mott breke my heele."
Ther sche toke forty marke
Of sylver and gold styff and sterke:
Sche toke yt feyre and welle;
Sche seyd, "Into the chambyr wylle we,
Ther no man schalle us see;
No lenger wylle we spare."
Up the steyer they gan hye:
The stepes were made so queyntly
That farther myght he nott fare.
The lord stumbyllyd as he went in hast,
He felle donne into that chaste
Forty fote and somedele more.
The lord began to crye;
The wyfe seyd to hym in hye,
"Syr, what do ye there?"
"Dame, I can nott seye howe
That I am come hydder nowe
To thys hows that ys so newe;
I am so depe in thys sure flore
That I ne can come owte att no dore;
Good dame, on me thou rewe!"
"Nay," sche seyd, "so mut y the,
Tylle myne husbond come and se,
I schrewe hym that yt thought."
The lord arose and lokyd abowte
If he myght eny where get owte,
But yt holpe hym ryght noght,
The wallys were so thycke wythyn,
That he nowhere myght owte wynne
But helpe to hym were brought;
And ever the lord made evylle chere,
And seyd, "Dame, thou schalt by thys dere."
Sche seyd tat sche ne rought;
Sche seyd, "I recke nere
Whyle I am here and thou art there,
I schrewe herre that thee doth drede."
The lord was sone owte of her thought,
The wyfe went into her lofte,
Sche satte and dyd here dede.
Than yt fell on that other daye
Of mete and drynke he gan her pray,
Thereof he hadde gret nede.
He seyd, "Dame, for seynt charyté,
Wyth some mete thou comfort me."
Sche seyd, "Nay, so God me spede,
For I swere by swete seynt Johne,
Mete ne drynke ne getyst thou none
Butt thou wylt swete or swynke;
For I have both hempe and lyne,
And a betyngstocke fulle fyne,
And a swyngylle good and grete;
If thou wylt worke, tell me sone."
"Dame, bryng yt forthe, yt schalle be done,
Fulle gladly would I ete."
Sche toke the stocke in her honde,
And into the pytt sche yt schlang
Wyth a grete hete:
Sche brought the lyne and hempe on her backe,
"Syr lord," sche seyd, "have thou that,
And lerne for to swete."
Ther sche toke hym a bonde
For to occupy hys honde,
And bade hym fast on to bete.
He leyd yt downe on the stone,
And leyd on strockes welle good wone,
And sparyd nott on to leyne.
Whan that he hadde wrought a thrave,
Mete and drynke he gan to crave,
And would have hadde yt fayne;
"That I hadde somewhat for to ete
Now after my gret swete;
Me thynketh yt were ryght,
For I have labouryd nyght and daye
Thee for to plese, dame I saye,
And therto putt my myght."
The wyfe seyd, "So mutt I have hele,
And yf thi worke be wrought wele
Thou schalt have to dyne."
Mete and drynke sche hym bare,
Wyth a thrafe of flex mare
Of fulle long boundyn lyne.
So feyre the wyfe the lord gan praye
That he schuld be werkyng aye,
And nought that he schuld blynne;
The lord was fayne to werke tho,
Butt hys men knewe nott of hys woo
Nor of ther lordes pyne.

The stuard to the wryght gan saye,
"Sawe thou owte of my lord todaye,
Whether that he ys wende?"
The wryght answerde and seyd, "Naye,
I sawe hym nott syth yesterdaye;
I trowe that he be schente."
The stuard stode the wryght by,
And of hys garlond hadde ferly
What that yt bemente.
The stuard seyd, "So God me save,
Of thy garlond wondyr I have,
And who yt hath thee sent."
"Syr," he seyd, "be the same hatte
I can knowe yf my wyfe be badde
To me by eny other man;
If my floures outher fade or falle,
Then doth my wyfe me wrong wythalle,
As many a woman can."
The stuard thought, "By Godes myght,
That schalle I preve thys same nyght
Whether thou blys or banne."
And into hys chambyr he gan gone,
And toke tresure fulle good wone,
And forth he spedde hem than.
Butt he ne stynt att no stone
Tylle he unto the wryghtes hows come
That ylke same nyght.
He mett the wyfe amydde the gate,
Abowte the necke he gan her take,
And seyd, "My dere wyght,
Alle the good that ys myne
I wylle thee geve to be thyne
To lye by thee alle nyght."
Sche seyd, "Syr, lett be thy fare
My husbond wolle wete wythowtyn mare
And I hym dyd that unryght;
I would nott he myght yt wete
For alle the good that I myght gete,
So Jhesus mutt me spede;
For, and eny man lay me by,
My husbond would yt wete truly,
It ys wythowtyn eny drede."
The stuard seyd, "For hym that ys wrought,
Thereof, dame, dred thee noght
Wyth me to do that dede;
Have here of me twenty marke
Of gold and sylver styf and starke,
Thys tresoure schalle be thy mede."
"Syr, and I graunt that to you,
Lett no man wete butt we two nowe."
He seyd, "Nay, wythowtyn drede."
The stuard thought, "Sykerly
Women beth both queynte and slye."
The mony he gan her bede;
He thought wele to have be spedde,
And of her erand he was onredde
Or he were fro hem i-gone.
Up the sterys sche hym leyde
Tylle he saw the wryghtes bedde:
Of tresoure thought he none;
He went and stumblyd att a stone,
Into the sellere he fylle sone
Downe to the bare flore.
The lord seyd, "What devylle art thou?
And thou hadest falle on me nowe,
Thowe hadest hurt me fulle sore."
The stuard stert and staryd abowte
If he myght ower gete owte
Att hold lesse or mare.
The lord seyd, "Welcome, and sytt betyme,
For thou schalt helpe to dyght thys lyne
For alle thy fers fare."
The stuard lokyd on the knyght,
He seyd, "Syr, for Godes myght,
My lord, what do you here?"
He seyd, "Felowe, wythowtyn oth,
For o erand we come bothe,
The sothe wolle I nott lete."
Tho cam the wyfe them unto,
And seyd, "Syrres, what do you to,
Wylle ye nott lerne to swete?"
Than seyd the lord her unto,
"Dame, youre lyne ys i-doo,
Nowe would I fayne ete:
And I have made yt alle ilyke,
Fulle clere, and nothing thycke,
Me thynketh yt gret payne."
The stuard seyd, "Wythowtyn dowte,
And ever I may wynne owte,
I wyll breke her brayne."
"Felowe, lett be, and sey nott so,
For thou schalt worke or ever thou goo,
Thy wordes thou torne agayne,
Fayne thou schalt be so to doo,
And thy good wylle put therto;
As a man buxome and bayne
Thowe schalt rubbe, rele, and spynne,
And thou wolt eny mete wynne,
That I geve to God a gyfte."
The stuard seyd, "Then have I wondyr;
Rather would I dy for hungyr
Wythowte hosylle or shryfte."
The lord seyd, "So have I hele,
Thowe wylt worke, yf thou hungyr well,
What worke that thee be brought."
The lord satt and dyd hys werke,
The stuard drewe into the derke.
Gret sorowe was in hys thought.
The lord seyd, "Dame, here ys youre lyne,
Have yt in Godes blessyng and myne,
I hold yt well i-wrought."
Mete and drynke sche gave hymn yn,
"The stuard," sche seyd, "wolle he nott spynne,
Wylle he do ryght noght?"
The lord seyd, "By swete sen Jone,
Of thy mete schalle he have none
That ye have me hydder brought."
The lord ete and dranke fast,
The stuard hungeryd att the last,
For he gave hym nought.
The stuard satt alle in a stody,
Hys lord hadde forgote curtesy:
Tho seyd the stuard, "Geve me some."
The lord seyd, "Sorow have the morselle or sope
That schalle come in thy throte;
Nott so much as a crome!
Butt thou wylt helpe to dyght this lyne,
Much hungyr yt schalle be thyne
Though thou make much mone."
Up he rose, and went therto,
"Better ys me thus to doo
Whyle yt must nedys be do."
The stuard began fast to knocke,
The wyfe threw hym a syngelyng stocke,
Hys mete therwyth to wyn;
Sche brought a swyngylle at the last,
"Good syres," sche seyd, "swyngylle on fast;
For nothing that ye blynne."
Sche gave hym a stocke to sytt uppon,
And seyd, "Syres, this werke must nedys be done,
Alle that that ys here yn."
The stuard toke up a stycke to saye,
"Sey, seye, swyngylle better yf ye may,
Hytt wylle be the better to spynne."
Were the lord never so gret,
Yet was he fayne to werke for hys mete
Though he were never so sadde;
Butt the stuard that was so stowde,
Was fayne to swyngelle the scales owte,
Therof he was nott glad.
The lordys meyné that were att home
Wyst nott where he was bycome,
They were fulle sore adrad.

The proctoure of the parysche chyrche ryght
Came and lokyd on the wryght,
He lokyd as he were madde;
Fast the proctoure gan hym frayne,
"Where hadest thou this garlond gayne?
It ys ever lyke newe."
The wryght gan say, "Felowe,
Wyth my wyfe, yf thou wylt knowe;
That dare me nott rewe;
For alle the whyle my wyfe trew ys,
My garlond wolle hold hewe iwys,
And never falle nor fade;
And yf my wyfe take a paramoure,
Than wolle my garlond vade the floure,
That dare I ley myne hede."
The proctoure thought, "In good faye
That schalle I wete thy same daye
Whether yt may so be."
To the wryghtes hows he went;
He grete the wyfe wyth feyre entente.
Sche seyd, "Syr, welcome be ye."
"A! dame, my love ys on you fast
Syth the tyme I sawe you last;
I pray you yt may so be
That ye would graunt me of youre grace
To play wyth you in some privy place,
Or ellys to deth mutt me."
Fast the proctoure gan to pray,
And ever to hym sche seyd, "Naye,
That wolle I nott doo.
Hadest thou done that ded wyth me,
My spouse by hys garlond myght see:
That schuld torne me to woo."
The proctoure seyd, "By heven kyng,
If he sey to thee anything
He schalle have sorowe unsowte;
Twenty marke I wolle thee geve,
It wolle thee helpe welle to lyve,
The mony here have I brought."
Nowe hath sche the tresure tane,
And up the steyre be they gane,
(What helpyth yt to lye?)
The wyfe went the steyre besyde,
The proctoure went a lytylle to wyde
He felle downe by and by.
Whan he in the seller felle,
He wente to have sonke into hell,
He was in hart fulle sory.
The stuard lokyd on the knyght,
And seyd, "Proctoure, for Godes myght,
Come and sytt us by."
The proctoure began to stare,
For he was he wyst never whare,
Butt wele he knewe the knyght
And the stuard that swyngelyd the lyne.
He seyd, "Syres, for Godes pyne,
What do ye here thys nyght?"
The stuard seyd, "God geve thee care,
Thowe camyst to loke howe we fare,
Nowe helpe this lyne were dyght."
He stode stylle in a gret thought,
What to answer he wyst noght:
"By Mary fulle of myght,"
The proctoure seyd, "What do ye in this yn
For to bete thys wyfees lyne?
For Jhesus love, fulle of myght,"
The proctoure seyd ryght as he thought,
"For me yt schalle by evylle wrought
And I may see aryght,
For I lernyd never in londe
For to have a swyngelle in hond
By day nor by nyght."
The stuard seyd, "As good as thou
We hold us that be here nowe,
And lett preve yt be syght;
Yet must us worke for owre mete,
Or ellys schalle we none gete,
Mete nor drynke to owre honde."
The lord seyd, "Why flyte ye two?
I trowe ye wylle werke or ye goo
If yt be as I undeyrstond."
Abowte he goys twyes or thryes;
They ete and drunke in such wyse
That they geve hym ryght noght.
The proctoure seyd, "Thynke ye no schame,
Geve me some mete, ye be to blame,
Of that the wyfe ye brought."
The stuard seyd, "Evylle spede the soppe
If eny morcelle come in thy throte
Butt thou wyth us hadest wrought."
The proctoure stode in a stody
Whether he myght worke hem by;
And so to torne hys thought,
To the lord he drewe nere,
And to hym seyd wyth myld chere,
"That Mary mott thee spede."
The proctour began to knocke.
The good wyfe rawte hym a rocke,
For therto hadde sche nede.
Sche seyd, "Whan I was mayde att home,
Other werke dowde I do none
My lyf therwyth to lede."
Sche gave hym in hande a rocke hynde,
And bade hem fast for to wynde
Or ellys to lett be hys dede.
"Yes, dame," he seyd, "so have I hele,
I schalle yt worke both feyre and welle
As ye have taute me."
He wavyd up a strycke of lyne,
And he span wele and fyne
Byfore the swyngelle tre.
The lord seyd, "Thou spynnest to grete,
Therfore thou schalt have no mete,
That thou schalt well see."
Thus they satt and wrought fast
Tylle the weke dayes were past.

Then the wryght, home came he,
And as he cam by hus hows syde
He herd noyse that was not ryde
Of persons two or thre;
One of hem knockyd lyne,
Anothyr swyngelyd good and fyne1
Byfore the swyngylle tre,
The thyrde did rele and spynne,
Mete and drynke therwyth to wynne,
Gret nede therof hadde he.
Thus the wryght stode herkenyng;
Hys wyfe was ware of hys comyng,
And ageynst hym went sche.
"Dame," he seyd, "what ys this dynne?
I here gret noyse here wythynne;
Telle me, so God thee spede."
"Syr," sche seyd, "workemen thre
Be come to helpe you and me,
Therof we have gret nede;
Fayne would I wete what they were."
But when he sawe hys lord there,
Hys hert bygan to drede
To see hys lord in that place,
He thought yt was a strange cas,
And seyd, "So God hym spede,
What do ye here, my lord and knyght?
Telle me nowe for Godes myght
Howe cam thys unto?"
The knyght seyd, "What ys best rede?
Mercy I aske for my mysdede,
My hert ys wondyr wo."
"So ys myne, verament,
To se you among thys flex and hempe,
Fulle sore yt ruyth me,
To se you in such hevynes;
Fulle sore myne hert yt doth oppresse,
By God in Trinité."
The wryght bade hys wyfe lett hym owte,
"Nay, then sorowe come on my snowte
If they passe hens todaye
Tylle that my lady come and see
Howe they would have done wyth me,
Butt nowe late me saye."
Anon sche sent after the lady bryght
For to fett home her lord and knyght,
Therto sche seyd noght;
Sche told her what they hadde ment,
And of ther purpos and ther intente
That they would have wrought.
Glad was that lady of that tydyng;
When sche wyst her lord was lyvyng,
Therof sche was fulle fayne:
Whan sche came unto the steyre aboven,
Sche lokyd unto the seller downe,
And seyd, (this ys nott to leyne),
"Good syres, what doo you here?"
"Dame, we by owre mete fulle dere,
Wyth gret travayle and peyne;
I pray you help that we were owte,
And I wylle swere wythowtyn dowte
Never to come here agayne."
The lady spake the wyfe untylle,
And seyd, "Dame, yf yt be youre wylle,
What doo thes meyny here?"
The carpentarys wyfe her answerd sykerly,
"Alle they would have leyne me by,
Everych in ther manere,
Gold and sylver they me brought,
And forsoke yt, and would yt noght,
The ryche gyftes so clere.
Wyllyng they were to do me schame,
I toke ther gyftes wythowtyn blame,
And ther they be alle thre."
The lady answerd her anon,
"I have thynges to do att home
Mo than two or thre;
I wyst my lord never do ryght noght
Of nothing that schuld be wrought,
Such as fallyth to me."
The lady lawghed and made good game
Whan they came owte alle in-same
From the swyngylle tre.
The knyght seyd, "Felowys in fere,
I am glad that we be here,
By Godes dere pyté;
Dame, and ye hadde bene wyth us,
Ye would have wrought, by swete Jhesus,
As welle as dyd we."
And when they cam up aboven
They turnyd abowte and lokyd downe,
The lord seyd, "So God save me,
Yet hadde I never such a fytte
As I have hadde in that lowe pytte;
So Mary so mutt me spede."
The knyght and thys lady bryght,
Howe they would home that nyght,
For nothyng they would abyde;
And so they went home;
Thys seyd Adam of Cobsam
By the weye as they rode
Throwe a wode in ther playeng,
For to here the fowlys syng
They hovyd stylle and bode.
The stuard sware by Godes ore,
And so dyd the proctoure much more,
That never in ther lyfe
Would they no more come in that wonne
Whan they were onys thens come,
Thys forty yere and fyve.
Of the tresure that they brought
The lady would geve hem ryght noght,
Butt gave yt to the wryghtes wyfe.
Thus the wryghtes garlond was feyre of hewe,
And hys wyfe bothe good and trewe:
Thereof was he fulle blythe;
I take wytnes att gret and smalle,
Thus trewe bene good women alle
That nowe bene on lyve,
So come thryste on ther hedys
Whan they mombylle on ther bedys
Ther Pater Noster ryve.

Here ys wretyn a geste of the wryght
That hadde a garlond well i-dyght,
The coloure wylle never fade.
Now God that ys hevyn kyng
Graunt us alle hys dere blessyng
Owre hertes for to glade;
And alle tho that doo her husbondys ryght,
Pray we to Jhesu fulle of myght,
That feyre mott hem byfalle,
And that they may come to heven blys,
For they dere moderys love therof nott to mys,
Alle good wyves alle.
Now alle tho that thy tretys hath hard,
Jhesu graunt hem for her reward
As trew lovers to be
As was the wryght unto hys wyfe
And sche to hym duryng her lyfe.
Amen, for charyté.

Here endyth the wryghtes processe trewe
Wyth hys garlond feyre of hewe
That never dyd fade the coloure.
It was made by the avyse
Of hys wywes moder wytty and wyse
Of flourys most of honoure,
Of roses whyte that wylle nott fade,
Whych flour all Ynglond doth glad

Wyth trewloves medelyd in syght;
Unto the whych flour iwys
The love of God and of the comenys
Subdued bene of ryght.

(see note)

[for] a while stop [talking]

marvelous tales
turned out
Listen; hear
carpenter; (see note)
near; master
he (the wright)
pickaxes (hoes), harrow; plow; (see note)
no matter what
them far

Except; youth; (see note)

Everywhere; went

(see note)

Who; lovely; noble



(see note)
greeted; gladly


have nothing to give
I regret
Except; give; (see note)

(see note)
like it

without lie
wreath; [its] color
adultery; (see note)
beguiles; go to bed with her


to tell the truth; (see note)

bridal; (see note)


yearn [to take] her [away] from me
hastily; soon


doors skillfully

(see note)
[Neither]; nor


middle; floor
trap door

clever trick



timber to be readied
carpenter; should; (see note)
have your wife [be with you]; (see note)

did you get

acquired it



house soon



so [ardently]

your permission
play [sexual games]; secret place
rich gifts (movable property)
stop; plan of action; (see note)
(Christ's); Cross
once; fooling around

grow angry

payment; (see note)
red; (see note)

Give; money; at once

forty marks

will we [go]

hold back
stair; climb

down; chest (compartment)
feet; somewhat

sturdy floor

have pity
as I might thrive


walls; within

for this [pay] dearly
did not care

curse her who fears you

her work
second day

holy charity; (see note)

St. John

sweat and labor
beating block

passion (gusto)
take that

quickly begin



good fortune

measure; flax more; (see note)


their lord's suffering

Saw you

believe; may be in trouble (injured)

might mean

unfaithful (bad)

flowers either

bless or curse

a great quantity

in the middle of



stop; behavior
If; injustice
might; deliver
if any


fear you not


if I
never fear





looked around

prepare; flax
fierce behavior; (see note)


i.e., work

flax; done

the same
(see note)

break; brain (head)
shut up


obedient; compliant
wind; spin
If; food

confession; absolution


St. John

stupor; (see note)


Unless; prepare; flax


beating board

nothing; cease



i.e., knew what had become of him


to ask
did you get

cause sadness





must [I go]





thought; sunk

he was he did not know where

pounded; flax
are you doing

[The pastor]

dwelling; (see note)
beat; flax

know ourselves who

our food

trust; before


Until; worked

gave; distaff; (see note)

a young woman

well-made (nearby?) distaff; (see note)


handful of linen fibers
(see note)

too fast



bundled the heckled flax
(see note)
flail; (see note)




very sorrowful


countenance; (see note)
Until; (the lord's wife)


She (the wright's wife)

learned; living

(I am not lying)



Each one; own way

[I] rejected; not [take]
precious (glittering)

(see note)

(see note)



dear pity
if you

an experience

(see note)

hear; birds; (see note)
halted; waited

once had been

(see note)
return nothing


live now
[may] spiritual desire (thirst) come upon
Their Our Father many times (rife)


to gladden
those; justice

good things must them


treatise; heard
them; their

orderly story (pageant)

By; wife's mother

trueloves (flower of chastity) mingled


The Wright's Chaste Wife, Select Bibliography


Lambeth Palace Library MS 306, fols. 178a-187a (1460s).


Adam of Cobsam. The Wright's Chaste Wife. Ed. Frederick J. Furnivall. EETS o.s. 12. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1865; rpt 1891, 1905, 1965.

Related Studies

DuVal, John. "The Wright's Chaste Wife: A Satiric Fabliau." Publication of the Missouri Philological Association 2 (1977), 8-14.

Goodall, Peter. "An Outline History of the English Fabliau after Chaucer." AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 57 (May 1982), 5-23.

Hanawalt, Barbara A. "Separation Anxieties in Late Medieval London: Gender in The Wright's Chaste Wife." Medieval Perspectives 11 (1996), 23-41.

---. 'Of Good and Ill Repute': Gender and Social Control in Medieval England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. 88-103.

Llewellyn, R. H. "The Wright's Chaste Wife Disinterred." Southern Folklore Quarterly 16 (1952), 251-54.