Back to top

Bycorne and Chychevache


1 …with a walking stick on his back, threatening the beast in order to rescue his wife

2 And cried, “Wolf’s head obedience!” (i.e., “Outlaw obedience!”)


ABBREVIATIONS: BL: British Library; CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MP: Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. MacCracken; TB: Lydgate, Troy Book.

Bycorne and Chychevache tells the satiric story of two legendary beasts, one of whom dines on patient men, the other on submissive women. Like the Disguising at Hertford, the poem is part of a misogynist tradition of complaints about unruly women and of advice on marital behavior, as is underscored by one manuscript of the poem, Trinity R.3.19, which also includes the conduct poems How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter and How the Wise Man Taught His Son. Bycorne also echoes Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s and Clerk’s tales, with explicit references to patient Griselda and the question of sovereignty in marriage. While no direct source has been traced, Lydgate might have known French versions of the story, such as the Dit de la Chincheface (printed by Jubinal, 1:390). Pearsall notes that the story of Bycorne and Chychevache, already well known by Chaucer’s time, became popular in murals and tapestries of the fifteenth century, the most famous example being the mural paintings in the castle of Villeneuve-Lembron in France, where the verses are written on scrolls between the pictures (John Lydgate, pp. 179–80). Lydgate’s poem consists of nineteen stanzas written in rhyme royal: the first three stanzas are narrated by an ymage in poete-wyse, while the following stanzas consist of direct speech from Bycorne, a group of husbands, a woman who is being devoured by Chychevache, and, finally, Chychevache and an old man whose wife has been eaten. Prose headings between stanzas describe what is being portrayed by the verses. Like the identity of the worthy citizen of London for whom Shirley says it was written, the poem’s date is unknown, although it may plausibly be dated to 1427–30, the period of Lydgate’s other London poems (Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p. 31).

Shirley’s headnote identifies Bycorne and Chychevache as “the devise of a peynted or desteyned clothe for an halle a parlour or a chaumbre,” suggesting that the verses were meant for a wall-hanging or tapestry, although a note at the end of the version found in Trinity R.3.19 identifies the verses as having “been Compilyd by John Ludgate . . . to be paynted in a parlor” (fol. 159r), which may point to a wall-painting or mural (see Gerould, “Legends of St. Wulfhad and St. Ruffin,” pp. 333–35). Kipling believes that Shirley uses the term “device” in the technical sense of written directions to guide an artisan, and that Lydgate is envisioning six painted cloth panels for which he gives iconographical descriptions in prose (“histories” or instructions to the painter) and verse scriptures (“reasons,” which represent the words that are to be inscribed by the painter along with each image) (“Poet as Deviser,” p. 82). Others have argued that the poem may have been intended for dramatic presentation, perhaps as a pantomimed mumming (see Schirmer, John Lydgate, pp. 98–100, and Wickham, Early English Stages, 1:191 and 1:205), a claim encouraged by the running titles in Trinity R.3.20, which identify the text as being in “the fourome of desguysinges . . . the maner of straunge desgysinges . . . the gyse of a mumynge,” as well as by the direct speeches of the poetlike figure and characters in the poem. The impression that the text points to some sort of performance was shared by its first editor, Isaac Reed, who added the version found in BL MS Harley 2251 to his 1780 edition of Dodsley’s Select Collection of Old Plays; it was also included on a list made c. 1820 of pre-1700 plays reputedly owned by John Warburton (1682–1759) that were destroyed by his cook (see Folger Library MS W.a.234 and the discussion in Freehafer, “John Warburton’s Lost Plays”).

The poem survives in three fifteenth-century manuscripts . The base text for this edition is Trinity R.3.20 (1450–75), pp. 10–15 (MP, 2:433–38), collated with Trinity R.3.19 and BL MS Harley 2251.

running titles: the fourome of desguysinges / contreved by daun Johan Lidegate / the maner of / straunge desgysinges / the gyse of a mumynge. The word daun, derived from the Latin dominus, was a title of respect used broadly for priests and monks as well as authors, classical gods, and historical figures.

headnote Loo is an interjection, meaning “look” or “behold,” often used to attract attention. The terms devise and devised had a range of late medieval meanings, including “plan” or “design” (MED, n. 3[a] and v. 4[a]). The phrase werthy citeseyn suggests an established resident of the city and a person of status.

rubric First there shal stonde . . . seying thees thre balades. Kipling assumes that this and the following rubrics were part of Lydgate’s original text and constituted his instructions to the painter (“Poet as Deviser,” p. 82), but they may also have functioned as stage directions. A balade was a poem or stanza in rhyme royal (seven lines in iambic pentameter, rhyming ababbcc); as used here, it refers to the three following stanzas, which introduce the story. The use of seying here and of similar verbs in some of the subsequent rubrics may indicate that the verses were spoken aloud.

1 takethe heed. An injunction to the audience to pay attention, this phrase links the poem to a tradition of advice literature.

6 derrain. From dereinen, here meaning “to decide the outcome of (a battle)” (MED, v. 3[b]). Lydgate also uses this word in the Disguising at Hertford to describe the conflict between the wives and their husbands (lines 165–66).

7 ff. rubric purtrayed. The Middle English verb portraien had a range of meanings, including to draw, to paint, to depict, or to create a mental image or verbal description. Pearsall thinks that the use of purtrayed (in contrast with the words showeth, kometh, and demonstrando, which Shirley uses in the rubrics to the mummings and disguisings) may point to painted images, although there is no way to be certain (John Lydgate, pp. 179–80 and 191n34).

8 Chichevache . . . Bycorne. From Old French Chiche Vache (“Lean Cow”; the Middle English word chiche or chinche had the meanings of “miserly,” “stingy,” or “greedy”), a monster in a French fable who is said to feed on virtuous women; Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale refers to Chychevache when wives are warned not to be “pacient and kynde” lest they be swallowed by Chychevache (CT IV[E]1188). According to the MED, Bycorne comes from the Latin bicornis and as used here means “fabulous (two horned) beast,” and in his Troy Book Lydgate describes Bycornys as one of the gods of the forest (2.7702). For further discussion of the two names, see Hammond, English Verse, pp. 113–18; Denny-Brown, “Lydgate’s Golden Cows,” pp. 39–41; and Menner, “Bycorne-Bygorne.”

32 Theyre tunge clappethe. In misogynist literature and conduct books, women were often castigated for talking excessively.

49 Maken maystresses of theyre wyves. The theme of men’s ceding of mastery in marriage is a staple of medieval misogynist literature. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath represents the most vigorous Middle English defense of the woman’s right to mastery in marriage, but Lydgate here follows the more traditional line that men who allow their wives undue power will pay a penalty (in this case, by being devoured by Bycorne, an action that suggests that they have been cuckolded).

87 Griselda is the patient wife in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and numerous other fourteenth-century sources who uncomplainingly endures her husband’s torments.

92 a dere yeere. The envoy to the Clerk’s Tale similarly laments the scarcity of submissive women (CT IV[E]1164–65). For discussion of the themes of appetite and avarice in Bycorne and of its connection to the Clerk’s Tale, see Denny-Brown, “Lydgate’s Golden Cows.”

133 Lynkeld in a double cheyne. The final line sums up men’s dilemma: if they submit to their wives, they will be eaten by Bycorne; if they stand up to their wives, they will live in fear. Compare Lydgate’s description of the treatment of Diomede by Criseyde, who will “lynke hym in a cheyne” (TB 3.4859).


ABBREVIATIONS:C: Trinity R.3.19; H: Harley 2251; M: MacCracken’s 1934 edition; T: Trinity R.3.20, copy text for all of the disguisings and mummings except Bishopswood, and for Bycorne and Chychevache, the Procession of Corpus Christi, and Of the Sodein Fall of Princes.

headnote Omitted in C and H; headings of stanzas omitted in C and poem is untitled, but is laid out with indented stanzas and marginal notes supplied by Stow. M claims that C contains the running titles the couronne of disguysinges contrived by Daun Iohan Lidegate / The maner of straunge desguysinges, the gyse of a mummynge, but no such titles are visible on the manuscript today.

5 C and H omit of in phrase of theyre stryves.

6 derrain. C reads durayne.

8–21 T transposes these two stanzas, but uses a and b notation in the margin to indicate that they should be in the order shown here and in M. C also transposes the two stanzas, without noting any correction.

10 us. Omitted in C.
here. Omitted in H.
to forne. C reads beforne and H, beforn.

13 sentence. M’s emendation; T reads setence.

14 or thorughe. C reads and thorough.

15 For. C reads Furst.

16 Wil noon other. C reads Wyll have noon.

17 men. M claims H reads husks, but the manuscript omits men and inserts above the line something that may be husbandes.

20 Be. C reads Byn.
not. M erroneously claims T omits.

21 lak. M’s emendation, as well as the reading in C and H; T reads luk.

28 nat. M’s emendation; T omits.

33 I beshrewe. C reads I theym beshrew.

35 nought. C reads nat to.

36 foode. M’s emendation; T reads foote.

37 not tarye. C and H read nat to tarye.

38 whiche ther living. C reads whyche beth here lyvyng.

46 no gayne. C reads nothing.
us may. C and H read may us.

48 which theyre lyves. C reads of her lyfes.

67 no maner. C and H read in no maner.

75 voydethe. C reads and voyde.

76 Or. C reads For.

79 sklendre. M erroneously says that H reads tendre, but it is C.

91 Amorowe. C reads To morow.

97 sought. C omits and inserts goo above the line.

98 yit oone. C reads oone lyke.

100 go. C and H read ago.

102 no more. C reads any more.

109 beest. C omits.

111 a. C reads another.

114 ful. C reads suche.

115 of. C reads by.

116 In T, a later hand inserts forever before Pacyence. H reads forever pacience.

118 fayle. C reads to fayle.

120 longe. C reads full long.

132 bytwixen. M’s emendation; T reads bytwix.

133 Lynkeld. C reads lynked.
explicit After the explicit, C includes the note: Compilyd by John Ludgate monke of berye at the request of a worthye cyttesyne of London to be paynted in a parlor (fol. 159r).
  [Loo, sirs, the devise (device) of a peynted or desteyned (painted or stained) clothe for an halle, a parlour, or a chaumbre, devysed by Johan Lidegate at the request of a werthy citeseyn (worthy citizen) of London. (see note); (t-note)

[First there shal stonde an ymage in poete-wyse (in the guise of a poet) seying thees thre (these three) balades: (see note)


O prudent folkes, takethe heed
And remembrethe, in youre lyves,
Howe this story dothe proceed
Of the housbandes and theyre wyves,
Of theyre acorde and of theyre stryves
With lyf or deethe, which to derrain
Is graunted to thees beestis tweyin.
pay attention; (see note)

quarrels; (t-note)
decide the outcome of; (see note); (t-note)
two beasts

  [And thane shalle theer be purtrayed twoo beestis, oon (one) fatte another leene (lean). (see note)




Of Chichevache and of Bycorne
Tretethe hooly this matere,
Whos story hathe taught us here to forne
Howe thees beestis, bothe in feere,
Have theyre pasture, as yee shal here,
Of men and wymmen, in sentence,
Thorugh souffraunce or thorughe inpacience.

For this Bicorne of his nature
Wil noon other maner foode
But pacient men in his pasture;
And Chichevache etethe wymmen goode;
And boothe theos beestes, by the roode,
Be fatte or leene, hit may not fayle,
Lyke lak or plenté of theyre vitayle.
Skinny cow; Two horns (see note); (t-note)
before; (t-note)
Feed on [men and women]; hear
truly; (t-note)
Through patience; (t-note)

long-suffering; (t-note)
by the cross (a mild oath)
Are; (t-note)
According to lack; (t-note)

  [Thane shalle ther be pourtrayhed a fatte beest called Bycorne of the cuntrey of Bycornoys and seyne (say) thees thre balades filowing (following):





Of Bycornoys I am Bycorne,
Ful fatte and rounde, here as I stonde,
And in maryage bonde and sworne
To Chichevage, as hir husbande,
Which wil not ete on see nor lande
But pacyent wyves debonayre
Which to hir husbandes beon nat contrayre.

Ful scarce, God wot, is hir vitayle,
Humble wyves she fyndethe so fewe,
For alweys at the countretayle
Theyre tunge clappethe and dothe hewe;
Suche meke wyves I beshrewe,
That neyther cane at bedde ne boord
Theyre husbandes nought forbere on worde.

But my foode and my cherisshing,
To telle pleynly, and not tarye,
Ys of suche folk whiche ther living,
Dar to theyre wyves be not contrarye,
Ne frome theyre lustis dar not varye,
Nor with hem holde no chaumpartye;
Alle suche my stomake wol defye!


Who; sea
Any except; humble
their; are not contrary; (t-note)

God knows; her food

in reply
tongue flaps and cuts; (see note)
submissive; curse; (t-note)
can; table
one; (t-note)

nourishment; (t-note)
delay; (t-note)

contend against them

  [Thanne shal be pourtrayed a companye of men comyng towardes this beest Bicorne and sey thees foure balades:






Felawes, takethe heede and yee may see
Howe Bicorne castethe him to devoure
Alle humble men, bothe you and me,
Ther is no gayne us may socour;
Wo be therfore, in halle and bour,
To alle thees husbandes, which theyre lyves
Maken maystresses of theyre wyves.

Who that so doothe, this is the lawe,
That this Bycorne wol him oppresse,
And devowren in his mawe
That of his wyf makethe his maystresse;
This wol us bring in gret distresse,
For we for oure humylytee
Of Bycorne shal devowred be.

We stonden pleynly in suche cas,
That they to us maystresses be,
We may wel sing and seyne allas!
That wee gaf hem the sovereynté;
For we be thralle and they beo fre,
Wherfore Bycorne, this cruell beste,
Wol us devowren at the leest.

But who that cane be sovereyne,
And his wyf teeche and chastyse,
That she dare not a worde geyne-seyne,
Nor disobeye no maner wyse,
Of suche a man, I cane devyse,
He stant under proteccion;
Frome Bycornes jurisdiccyoun.

intends to

no help that can protect us; (t-note)
in manor and cottage
sovereign women; (see note)

He who


We are clearly in such misfortune

in thrall; free

Will; in any case

in any way; (t-note)

  [Thanne shal ther be a womman devowred ypurtrayhed in the mouthe of Chichevache cryen (crying) to alle wyves and sey this balade:


O noble wyves, beothe wel ware,
Takethe ensaumple nowe by me,
Or ellys, afferme weel I dare,
Yee shal beo ded, yee shal not flee;
Beothe crabbed, voydethe humylitee,
Or Chychevache ne wol not fayle
You for to swalowe in hir entrayle.
be aware
I dare well say
spiteful; avoid; (t-note)

  [Thanne shal be ther purtrayhed a longe horned beest sklendre (slender) and lene (lean) with sharpe teethe and on his body nothing save skyn and boone (bone).






Chychevache, this is my name,
Hungry, megre, sklendre, and lene,
To shewe my body I have gret shame,
For hunger I feele so gret teene,
On me no fattnesse wol beo seene,
By cause that pasture I fynde noon,
Therfore I am but skyn and boon.

For my feding in existence
Is of wymmen that beon meeke,
And lyche Gresylde in pacyence,
Or more, theyre bountee for to eeke;
But I ful longe may goon and seeke
Or I cane fynde a gode repaaste
Amorowe to breke with my faaste.

I trowe ther beo a dere yeere
Of pacyent wymmen nowe theos dayes;
Who grevethe hem with worde or chere,
Let him beware of suche assayes;
For it is more thane thritty Mayes
That I have sought frome lande to londe,
But yit oone Gresylde never I fonde.

I fonde but oone, in al my lyve,
And she was deed sith go ful yore;
For more pasture I wil not stryve
Nor seeche for my foode no more,
Ne for vitayle me to enstore;
Wymmen beon wexen so prudent
They wol no more beo pacyent.

emaciated; slender; lean; (t-note)


skin and bones

in reality

like; (see note)
virtue to enhance

Before; good
In the morning; (t-note)

believe; is a dearth; (see note)

makes them (i.e., women) angry; manner

dead since long ago; (t-note)

search; (t-note)
have grown; wise

  [Thanne shal there be pourtrayhed after Chichevache an olde man with a baston on his bakke manassing the beest for the rescowing of his wyf:1






My wyf, allas, devowred is;
Moost pacyente and mooste peysyble,
Sheo never sayde to me amysse,
Whome hathe nowe slayne this beest horryble,
And for it is an inpossyble
To fynde ever suche a wyf,
I wil lyve sool during my lyf.

For nowe of nuwe for theyre prowe
The wyves of ful hyegh prudence
Have of assent made theyre avowe,
For to exyle Pacyence,
And cryed, “Wolfes heed obedyence!”2
To make Chichevache fayle
Of hem to fynde more vitayle.

Nowe Chichevache may fast longe,
And dye for al hire cruweltee,
Wymmen have made hemself so stronge
For to outraye humylyté.
O cely housbandes! woo beon yee!
Suche as cane have no pacyence
Ageyns youre wyves vyolence.

Yif that yee suffre, yee beo but deed,
This Bicorne awaytethe yowe so soore,
Eeke of youre wyves yee stonde in dreed
Yif yee geyne-seye hem any more;
And thus yee stonde, and have doone yoore,
Of lyf and deeth bytwixen tweyne,
Lynkeld in a double cheyne.



high; (t-note)
vow; (t-note)

fail; (t-note)
In them

their cruelty



for a long time
life; between the two; (t-note)
Linked; chain; (see note); (t-note)


Go To Disguising at Hertford