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Disguising at Hertford


1 Lines 63–64: If he spoke when he felt pain, / For every word he received two (blows)

2 What the consequence is of offending wives


Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; FP: Lydgate, Fall of Princes; MED: Middle English Dictionary; PP: Langland, Piers Plowman; PPC: Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council; TB: Lydgate, Troy Book.

Shirley says that the Disguising at Hertford was written at the request of the “Countré Roullour Brys slayne at Loviers”; John Brice, Henry VI’s cofferer (not controller), was probably killed at the siege of Louviers in 1431 (see Renoir, “On the Date of John Lydgate’s Mumming at Hertford,” and Green, “Three Fifteenth-Century Notes”). If he is the Brice to whom Shirley refers, 1431 would be the end limit for the disguising, and, following Green’s sug­gestion that it is unlikely to have been performed for a child younger than four, 1425 would be its earliest possible date. Since the Christmas season of 1429/30 is the likely date of the Windsor mumming, and since the king and queen spent the Christmasses of 1425/26 and 1428/29 at Eltham (see the explanatory notes for the Mumming at Eltham), with Henry in Rouen in 1430 and in Paris in 1431, then 1426/27 and 1427/28 would seem to be the possible dates for the Hertford disguising. Given that Henry VI was in Hertford during Easter in 1428, which suggests that he may have stayed on there after the Christmas season, and given that the accounts of Henry’s treasurer, John Merston, show payments for transportation from Windsor to Eltham and on to Hertford during the Christmas season (October to January 12) of 1427/28 (Foedera 10.387), 1427/28 is perhaps the likeliest date for the disguising. Lydgate wrote another poem that was perhaps also intended for that holiday season: the balade “On a New Year’s Gift of an Eagle” was composed, Shirley tells us, for presentation to Henry and his mother on New Year’s day at Hertford Castle and may have accompanied the gift of “une Eyer d’Or,” which Catherine gave to her son that year (Foedera 10.387). As cofferer, Brice was the chief deputy to the household controller and would have been in charge of the ordering of the hall and the meals and entertainments in it, including during the Christmas season of 1427/28.

While the details of the performance are unclear, critics have stressed the originality of the Hertford disguising, noting how Lydgate uses the Chaucerian themes of unruly wives and good governance to create a secular comedy that comes close to containing actual dialogue and that looks ahead to the Tudor masque (see Reyher, Les masques Anglais, p. 113; Wickham, Early English Stages, 1:221; and Withington, English Pageantry, 1:111). In organiza­tion, the disguising shows the influence of French débats, presenting first the complaint of the six peasant husbands about their wives’ tyranny, then turning to the wives’ response, and concluding with a noncommital decision by the king allowing the wives to continue domi­nating their husbands for another year while further investigation is undertaken. Apparently six actors impersonated the husbands, although they do not speak in their own voices; actors may also have played the six wives, who speak in the first person plural (with occasional slippage into the singular), perhaps through a presenter who “ventriloquizes” them, thus creating female impersonation of the sort found in the Bessy character of Plough Day festivities; Clopper believes that the contest between the men and the women “reflects a Hocktide game like that at Coventry, where the women capture and beat the men” (Drama, Play, and Game, p. 163) and Epstein notes that it is similar in some ways to vernacular plays, including the Second Shepherds’ Play and the Towneley Noah (“Lydgate’s Mummings,” pp. 341–46). The king’s response was also probably spoken by a presenter, or perhaps a herald as Wickham suggests (Early English Stages, 3:195). We do not know who acted the parts of the husbands and wives, although payments for services during the 1427/28 holidays were made to her­alds, minstrels, Jakke Travaill and his London players (for performing “diverses Jeuues & Entreludes”), and players from Abingdon, who also performed interludes (Foedera, 10:387). It is possible, although unlikely, that the performers were local men (see the explanatory note to line 1) or members of the household: Crane notes that charivaris, aimed at the topic of unsuitable marriages or remarriages, could be found in courtly as well as rural contexts and cites evidence for participation by household members (Performance of Self, pp. 143–55).

Whether or not the anti-matrimonial sentiments of the Hertford mumming were a covert reference to Catherine of Valois’ amorous liaison with Owen Tudor (Green, “Three Fifteenth-Century Notes,” pp. 14–16, thinks they were, but Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p. 28, disagrees), the disguising would have been relevant for its sophisticated parody of royal supplication aimed at flattering and instructing young Henry by casting him in the role of arbiter. The disguising reshapes the problem of wifely disobedience as a problem of royal rule, thus setting up the king’s response, which exhibits those virtues of deliberation, seeking of counsel, and following of reason that all present must have hoped Henry would eventually practice (see Watts, Henry VI, pp. 24–29, for these and other ideals of kingship).

Merston’s accounts provide a short list of possible spectators who may have been pres­ent, including Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (who gave Henry a gift on January 1, 1428); William Pope, esquire (who presented Henry with a gift from Catherine); various noblemen as well as “Varlettz, Garcions, and Pages”; Alice Boutiller (Henry’s governess); and others (Foedera 10.387–88). The same accounts indicate that Shirley himself received a gold livery collar that year raising the interesting possibility that Shirley was at Hertford with the earl of Warwick during the Christmas season, in which case he may have seen the disguising. (For other possible spectators, based on known members of Henry’s household in the late 1420s, see Forbes, Lydgate’s Disguising at Hertford Castle, pp. 49–51).

The Disguising at Hertford survives in Trinity R.3.20 (1450–75), pp. 40–48, as well as in Stow’s copy of it, now Additional MS 29729. Trinity R.3.20 is the base text for this edition (MP, 2:675–82), collated with Additional 29729.

running titles: A desgysinge to fore the kynge / At cristmisse in the castel of hertforde / A desguysinge to fore the kyng / In cristemasse in the castell of hertford / the desgysinge for the kynge / At cristemasse at hertford / A desguysinge to fore the kynge / And qwene. Not noted in MP.

headnote Shirley seems to be using the term “bille” in the sense of a formal written petition to the king or parliament (see MED n. 3[a]). Hertford castle was twenty miles north of London on the river Lea; it was given to Catherine of Valois by Henry V on their marriage and was one of her principal residences in the 1420s. Shirley mistakenly identifies Brice as the Controller of the Royal Household, but between 1422 and 1452 that office was held by John Feriby and Thomas Stanley; Privy Council minutes for March 16, 1431 mention a John Brice who as the king’s Cofferer was the Controller’s deputy and most likely the man Shirley has in mind (PPC, 4:79). Louviers was near Rouen on the route to Paris; after being seized by the Dauphin in 1430 it was recaptured by the English in 1431, during which siege Brice was apparently killed. The last four words of the headnote are in slightly darker ink (although Hammond, “Lydgate’s Mumming at Hertford,” p. 365, mistakenly describes them as paler), perhaps suggesting Shirley added those words after he learned of Brice’s death. In his verse preface, copied by Stow into Additional 29729, Shirley echoes the phrase “the rude upplandisshe people,” this time applying it to himself (“my rude vplandishe wise”) while asking his readers to pardon any flaws in his copying efforts (see Connolly’s transcription, John Shirley, p. 209, line 14).

1 with support of your Grace. These words stress that the disguisers are invited guests, not unwelcome intruders, and along with lines 6–7 (Certeyne sweynes . . . comen) may possibly suggest performance by local men, although there is no other evidence for that conjecture.

5 the vigyle of this nuwe yeere. If taken literally, this phrase suggests that the disguising was performed on 31 December.

25 ff. Latin marginalia: i. demonstrando vi. rusticos [six rustics for the showing]. This apparent stage direction seems to indicate the entrance of the men impersonating the husbands. The mark before demonstrando is printed as an i by MacCracken (MP, 2:676), but Forbes (Lydgate’s Disguising at Hertford Castle, p. 36, note to line 25) notes that it could also be a mark like a tilde (~), which sometimes appears in later manuscripts after stage directions in the right margin.

28 Karycantowe. The MED cites this as the only example of karicantoue (n.), which it defines as a nonce word for “the dance of hen-pecked husbands.” Forbes imagines that Karycantowe is one of the rustics (Lydgate’s Disguising at Hertford Castle, p. 47), but the text does not readily support that interpretation.

30 Obbe the Reeve. A reeve was a manorial officer or bailiff, charged with overseeing the lord’s demesne farm. Hobbe is later called Robyn (line 44).

39 jowsy. Lydgate seems to have been the only writer to use this adjective; see MED, iousi, adj.

40 pouped. Apparently adopted from Chaucer: the only other instances of this word noted by the MED are in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale (CT VII[B2]3399) and the Manciple’s Prologue (CT IX[H]90).

52 distaff. A tool used in spinning, traditionally associated with women.

55 Colyn Cobeller. Compare the French farce of a cobbler who quarrels with his wife over who should shut the door (the Farce nouvelle très bonne des drois de la Porte Bodès et de Fermer l’huis, in Recueil de farces françaises, pp. 159–64, discussed by Enders, Rhetoric, pp. 210–16).

55 ff. Latin marginalia: demonstrando pictaciarium. A second apparent stage direction, pointing to the entrance of the cobbler.

65 qwytt. Another Chaucerian echo (e.g., CT I[A]4324: “Thus have I quyt the Millere in my tale”).

70 Cicely’s actions are doubly reprehensible: not only does she drink away her husband’s pay but she does it on a Sunday.

72–73 The reference to “game” and “play” here and in line 161 echoes the Merchant’s Tale: “it is no childes pley / To take a wyf withouten avysement” (CT IV[E] 1530–31); see Nolan, John Lydgate, pp. 166–67, for a discussion of Lydgate’s response to the Chaucerian dichotomy of “earnest” and “game.”

87 Compare the Merchant’s Tale, in which Justinus warns January about wifely “purgatorie” (CT IV[E]1670).

91 ff. Latin marginalia: demonstrando carnificem [a butcher for the showing].

93 Berthilmewe. St. Bartholomew was martyred by flaying and thus came to be associated with butchers; compare Berthylmew the Bochere in the N-Town “Trial of Joseph and Mary,” line 16.

95 holde chaumpartye. To engage in a dispute or contest with (MED, champartie, n. 2[b]); Lydgate uses the phrase in a number of his other works, including TB 2.5681 and FP 1.6334.

101 Pernelle. A name often given to a proud woman; a prostitute or concubine (MED). Compare PP, passus 5, line 26.

106 Bid him goo pleye him a twenty devel wey. See note to line 161 below and compare Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale, CT I(A)3713.

111 no taylle, but qwytt him. Compare the Shipman’s Tale, in which the wife punningly tells her husband to “score it upon my taille” (CT VII[B2]416).

115 Thome Tynker. Compare PP, passus 5, line 310.

115 ff. Latin marginalia: demonstrando the Tynker [a tinker for the showing]

116 wyres of Banebury. Forbes (Lydgate’s Disguising at Hertford Castle, pp. 13–14) thinks this means “wire-work” from Banbury, but wyres is probably a variant spelling of wares.

118 Bare up his arme. A gesture of self-defense to ward off blows.

126 Phelyce. Compare PP, passus 5, line 29.

140 sauf-conduyt. The husbands are seeking a safe-conduct from the king and ask to be granted franchise and liberty (line 138) as well as the king’s protection (line 142).

146 The Olde Testament for to modefye. The husbands ask the king to use his power to amend the “old law” of matriarchal custom claimed by wives as a “right” of women ruling over men. Also see lines 213–14, where the wives ask the king to uphold the statuyt of olde antiquytee.

156 ff. i. distaves. [The distaffs, i.e., the wives.]

161 It is no game with wyves for to pleye. A pun on ple (meaning complaint or lawsuit) and pleie (play). For the meanings of pleie in relation to drama, see Clopper, Drama, Play, and Game, pp. 12–17, and Coldewey, “Plays and ‘Play,’”). Also see the note to lines 72–73 above.

164 Twycross and Carpenter note that despite the appearance of direct speech, the wives’ answer “is also a ‘bill’ by way of replicatio, which could be delivered by a representative” (Masks and Masking, p. 160n44). Nolan argues that Lydgate lets the wives speak to show that like Chaucer’s Wife of Bath “they are by nature compelled to speak” (John Lydgate, p. 65); the dramatic innovation of direct speech arises from the gender dynamics of the piece, when men are unable to voice the women’s subjective claims. Crane (Performance of Self, p. 141) notes that Charles d’Orléans on one occasion writes in the voice of a company of women and may have read the poem himself to accompany women’s mumming (see ballad 88, in his Poésies, 1:128–29).

168 the worthy Wyf of Bathe. A reference to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath.

170 make hir housbandes wynne heven. Compare Justinus’ observation in the Merchant’s Tale that such wives of Bath may be “Goddes whippe; / Than youre soule up to hevene skippe / Swifter than dooth an arwe out of a bowe” (CT IV[E]1671–73).

176 Gresyldes story. A reference to Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale.

186–87 These lines echo the Wife of Bath’s Prologue (CT III[D]217–18) and refer to the custom at Dunmow, Essex, of awarding a side of bacon to spouses who lived a year and a day without quarreling.

203 prescripcyoun. Title or right acquired by virtue of uninterrupted possession or use.

rubric Clopper (Drama, Play, and Game, p. 163) sees the king’s decision to postpone judgment for a year (line 239) as a parody of Chaucer’s Lady Tercelet, but slowness to judge is part of the serious advice given to kings and is recom­mended to Henry VI in Lydgate’s Ballade to King Henry VI on His Coronation (MP, 2:624–30, line 133). Parry (“On the Continuity of English Civic Pageantry,” p. 225) notes that the device of flattering a monarch by making him or her the ar­biter in a dispute was used in Elizabethan entertainments, including in Elizabeth’s visit to the manor house of the earl of Leicester in 1578, where in the earl’s garden some­one dressed like “an honeste mans wyf of the Countrie” appeared and asked the queen’s advice as to which of two suitors would be the better match for her daughter.

251 I. The shift from description of the king’s judgment to the first-person pronoun is not explained in the text. Note the similar slip from we to I in line 186 of the wives’ reply. One often finds this appropriation of voice in Chaucer, particularly with the Wife of Bath.

254 with asure or with golde. Azure and gold were the colors of the French royal arms, and the image of a marital prison painted in those colors may refer to Queen Catherine’s affair with Owen Tudor and the 1427–28 parliamentary act, presum­ably inspired by her earlier liaison with Edmund Beaufort, imposing strictures on her remarriage (see Green, “Three Fifteenth-Century Notes,” p. 16, although Pearsall, Bio-Bibliography, p. 28, argues that since Catherine was a member of the king’s household until 1430 Lydgate would have been unlikely to make “sly digs at her”).


Introduction text here, if any; format exactly as it appears in the printed volume, using two "br" tags between paragraphs.

Abbreviations: A: Additional 29729 (Stow’s copy of R.3.20); 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 compleyning. M reads compleynyng.

5 vigyle. A reads begyninge.

6 froward of ther chere. Missing from T (torn leaf); M supplies from A.

7 fallen on ther kne. Missing from T (torn leaf); M supplies from A.

11 endured. A reads vendued.

14 unremuwable. A reads vuneriable.

17 yonge. M’s emendation; T reads yong.

35 hungry. A reads hugely.

42 hir. A reads his.

43 hir. A reads he.

53 bloode. M’s transcription; T reads blood.

63 felt. M reads felte.

116 wyres. A reads wynes.

133 dotardes. A reads dastardes.

157 Seothe. A reads Soth.

166 darrein. Not clear in A.

169 or. M’s emendation based on A; T reads of.

184 strowtethe. A reads straweth.

186 bakoun. M claims that A reads babeenu, but it looks like bakoun to me.

195 sory. A reads sorowe.

rubric herde, the kyng givethe. A reads hard the kynge and gave.

215 mooste. M reads moost.

223 stryf. M reads stryffe.

239 nexste. M’s emendation; T reads nexst.
  [Nowe folowethe here the maner of a bille by wey of supplicacion putte to the Kyng holding his noble feest of Cristmasse in the Castel of Hertford as in a disguysing of the rude upplandisshe people (uneducated rural people) compleyning on hir (their) wyves, with the boystous aunswere (vigorous answer) of hir wyves, devysed by Lydegate at the request of the Countré Roullour Brys slayne at Loviers. (see note); (t-note)











































Moost noble Prynce, with support of your Grace
Ther beon entred into youre royal place,
And late ecomen into youre castell,
Youre poure lieges, wheche lyke nothing weel;
Nowe in the vigyle of this nuwe yeere
Certeyne sweynes ful froward of ther chere
Of entent comen, fallen on ther kne,
For to compleyne unto yuoure Magestee
Upon the mescheef of gret adversytee,
Upon the trouble and the cruweltee
Which that they have endured in theyre lyves
By the felnesse of theyre fierce wyves;
Which is a tourment verray importable,
A bonde of sorowe, a knott unremuwable.
For whoo is bounde or locked in maryage,
     Yif he beo olde, he fallethe in dotage.
And yonge folkes, of theyre lymes sklendre,
Grene and lusty, and of brawne but tendre,
Phylosophres callen in suche aage
A chylde to wyve, a woodnesse or a raage.
For they afferme ther is non eorthely stryf
May beo compared to wedding of a wyf,
And who that ever stondethe in the cas,
He with his rebecke may sing ful oft ellas!
Lyke as theos hynes, here stonding oon by oon,

[i. demonstrando vi. rusticos

He may with hem upon the daunce goon,
Leorne the traas, boothe at even and morowe,
Of Karycantowe in tourment and in sorowe;
Weyle the whyle, ellas! that he was borne.
For Obbe the Reeve, that goothe heere al toforne,
He pleynethe sore his mariage is not meete,
For his wyf, Beautryce Bittersweete,
Cast upon him an hougly cheer ful rowghe,
Whane he komethe home ful wery frome the ploughe,
With hungry stomake deed and paale of cheere,
In hope to fynde redy his dynier;
Thanne sittethe Beautryce bolling at the nale,
As she that gyvethe of him no maner tale;
For she al day, with hir jowsy nolle,
Hathe for the collyk pouped in the bolle,
And for heedaache with pepir and gynger
Dronk dolled ale to make hir throte cleer;
And komethe hir hoome, whane hit drawethe to eve,
And thanne Robyn, the cely poure reeve,
Fynde noone amendes of harome ne damage,
But leene growell, and soupethe colde potage;
And of his wyf hathe noone other cheer
But cokkrowortes unto his souper.
This is his servyce sitting at the borde,
And cely Robyne, yif he speke a worde,
Beautryce of him doothe so lytel rekke,
That with hir distaff she hittethe him in the nekke,
For a medecyne to chawf with his bloode;
With suche a metyerde she hathe shape him an hoode.
And Colyn Cobeller, folowing his felawe,

[demonstrando pictaciarium

Hathe hade his part of the same lawe;
For by the feyth that the preost him gaf,
His wyf hathe taught him to pleyne at the staff;
Hir quarter-strooke were so large and rounde
That on his rigge the towche was alwey founde.
Cecely Soure-Chere, his owen precyous spouse,
Kowde him reheete whane he came to house;
Yif he ought spake whanne he felt peyne,
Ageyne oon worde, alweys he hade tweyne;1
Sheo qwytt him ever, ther was no thing to seeche,
Six for oon of worde and strookes eeche.
Ther was no meen bytweene hem for to goone;
Whatever he wan, clowting olde shoone
The wykday, pleynly this is no tale,
Sheo wolde on Sondayes drynk it at the nale.
His part was noon, he sayde not oonys nay;
Hit is no game but an hernest play,
For lack of wit a man his wyf to greeve.
Theos housbondemen, whoso wolde hem leeve,
Koude yif they dourst telle in audyence
What folowethe therof wyves to doone offence;2
Is noon so olde ne ryveld on hir face,
Wit tong or staff but that she dare manase.
Mabyle, God hir sauve and blesse,
Koude yif hir list bere hereof witnesse:
Wordes, strookes unhappe, and harde grace
With sharpe nayles kracching in the face.
I mene thus, whane the distaff is brooke,
With theyre fistes wyves wol be wrooke,
Blessed thoo men that cane in suche offence
Meekly souffre, take al in pacyence,
Tendure suche wyfly purgatorye.
Heven for theyre meede, to regne ther in glorye,
God graunt al housbandes that beon in this place,
To wynne so heven for His hooly grace.
Nexst in ordre, this bochier stoute and bolde

[demonstrando carnificem

That killed hathe bulles and boores olde,
This Berthilmewe, for al his broode knyf,
Yit durst he never with his sturdy wyf,
In no mater holde chaumpartye;
And if he did, sheo wolde anoon defye
His pompe, his pryde, with a sterne thought,
And sodeynly setten him at nought.
Thoughe his bely were rounded lyche an ooke
She wolde not fayle to gyf the firste strooke;
For proude Pernelle, lyche a chaumpyoun,
Wolde leve hir puddinges in a gret cawdroun,
Suffre hem boylle, and taake of hem noon heede,
But with hir skumour reeche him on the heved.
Shee wolde paye him, and make no delaye,
Bid him goo pleye him a twenty devel wey.
She was no cowarde founde at suche a neode,
Hir fist ful oft made his cheekis bleed;
What querell ever that he agenst hir sette,
She cast hir not to dyen in his dette.
She made no taylle, but qwytt him by and by;
His quarter sowde, she payde him feythfully,
And his waages, with al hir best entent,
She made therof noon assignement
Eeke Thome Tynker with alle hees pannes olde,

[demonstrando the Tynker

And alle the wyres of Banebury that he solde —
His styth, his hamour, his bagge portatyf —
Bare up his arme whane he faught with his wyf.
He foonde for haste no better bokeller
Upon his cheeke the distaff came so neer.
Hir name was cleped Tybot Tapister.
To brawle and broyle she nad no maner fer,
To thakke his pilche, stoundemel, nowe and thanne,
Thikker thane Thome koude clowten any panne.
Nexst Colle Tyler, ful hevy of his cheer,
Compleynethe on Phelyce his wyf, the wafurer.
Al his bred with sugre nys not baake,
Yit on his cheekis sometyme he hathe a caake
So hoot and nuwe, or he can taken heede,
That his heres glowe verray reede,
For a medecyne whane the forst is colde,
Making his teethe to ratle, that beon oolde.
This is the compleynt that theos dotardes oolde
Make on theyre wyves, that beon so stoute and bolde.
Theos holy martirs, preved ful pacyent,
Lowly beseching in al hir best entent,
Unto youre noble ryal magestee
To graunte hem fraunchyse and also liberté,
Sith they beothe fetird and bounden in maryage,
A sauf-conduyt to sauf him frome damage.
Eeke under support of youre hyeghe renoun,
Graunt hem also a proteccyoun;
Conquest of wyves is ronne thoroughe this lande,
Cleyming of right to have the hyegher hande.
But if you list, of youre regallye,
The Olde Testament for to modefye,
And that yee list asselen theyre request,
That theos poure husbandes might lyf in rest,
And that theyre wyves in theyre felle might
Wol medle amonge mercy with theyre right.
For it came never of nature ne raysoun,
A lyonesse t’oppresse the lyoun,
Ner a wolfesse, for al hir thyraunye,
Over the wolf to haven the maystrye.
Ther beon nowe wolfesses moo thane twoo or three,
The bookys recorde, wheeche that yonder bee.

[i. distaves

Seothe to this mater of mercy and of grace,
And or thees dotardes parte out of this place,
Upon theyre compleynt to shape remedye,
Or they beo likly to stande in jupardye.
It is no game with wyves for to pleye,
But for foolis, that gif no force to deye!

[Takethe heed of th’aunswer of the wyves.

Touching the substance of this hyeghe discorde,
We six wives beon ful of oon acorde,
Yif worde and chyding may us not avaylle,
We wol darrein it in chaumpcloos by bataylle.
Jupart oure right, laate or ellys raathe.
And for oure partye the worthy Wyf of Bathe
Cane shewe statutes moo than six or seven,
Howe wyves make hir housbandes wynne heven,
Maugré the feonde and al his vyolence;
For theyre vertu of parfyte pacyence
Partenethe not to wyves nowe-adayes,
Sauf on theyre housbandes for to make assayes.
Ther pacyence was buryed long agoo,
Gresyldes story recordethe pleinly soo.
It longethe to us to clappen as a mylle,
No counseyle keepe, but the trouth oute telle;
We beo not borne by hevenly influence
Of oure nature to keepe us in sylence.
For this is no doute, every prudent wyf
Hathe redy aunswere in al suche maner stryf.
Thoughe theos dotardes with theyre dokked berdes,
Which strowtethe out as they were made of herdes,
Have ageyn hus a gret quarell nowe sette,
I trowe the bakoun was never of hem fette,
Awaye at Dounmowe in the Pryorye.
They weene of us to have ay the maystrye;
Ellas! theos fooles, let hem aunswere hereto;
Whoo cane hem wasshe, who can hem wring alsoo?
Wryng hem, yee, wryng, so als God us speed,
Til that some tyme we make hir nases bleed,
And sowe hir cloothes whane they beothe torent,
And clowte hir bakkes til somme of us beo shent;
Loo, yit theos fooles, God gyf hem sory chaunce,
Wolde sette hir wyves under govvernaunce,
Make us to hem for to lowte lowe;
We knowe to weel the bent of Jackys bowe.
Al that we clayme, we clayme it but of right.
Yif they say nay, let preve it out by fight.
We wil us grounde not upon wommanhede.
Fy on hem, cowardes! When hit komethe to nede,
We clayme maystrye by prescripcyoun,
Be long tytle of successyoun,
Frome wyf to wyf, which we wol not leese.
Men may weel gruchche but they shal not cheese.
Custume is us for nature and usaunce
To set oure housbandes lyf in gret noysaunce.
Humbelly byseching nowe at oon worde
Unto oure Liege and moost soverein Lord,
Us to defende of his regallye,
And of his grace susteenen oure partye,
Requering the statuyt of olde antiquytee
That in youre tyme it may confermed bee.
(see note)

who are unhappy
(i.e., on New Year’s Eve); (see note); (t-note)
commoners; in an angry mood; (t-note)
Deliberately; (t-note)

unremovable; (t-note)
slender limbs; (t-note)

madness; insanity
earthly strife

is in that situation

six rustics for the showing; (see note)

(see note)
Regretting all the while
first; (see note)
complains; pleasant

angry look very harsh
dull and pale of face; (t-note)

carousing at the tavern
has no concern for him
drunken head; (see note)
colic; gulped; tankard; (see note)

mulled ale; (t-note)
relief from harm
gruel; dines on cold stew
stale gruel
meal; table
cares so little
(see note)
warm; (t-note)
yardstick; deceived him
(see note)

a cobbler for the showing; (see note)

faith; priest gave him

Could lay into him

She repaid; (see note)
Six times for every word and stroke of his

earned, mending old shoes
On weekdays
(see note)
(see note)
dared; in public


if she wanted to

satisfy their anger
To endure; (see note)


a butcher for the showing; (see note)

(see note)

engage in battle; (see note)

consider him worthless

(see note)
Let them boil
skimming utensil hit; head

in the name of twenty devils; (see note)

tally; (see note)
quarterly payments

(see note)

a tinker for the showing; (see note)

wares; (see note); (t-note)
anvil; carrying bag
(see note)

quarrel; had no fear at all
beat his hide, occasionally
Harder; strike; head
a maker of wafers; (see note)




safe-conduct; save them; (see note)

Claiming the right; upper
(see note)
mix mercy with
she-wolf; tyranny

(see note)

If either; depart

(see note)
Except; who don’t care about dying

one accord; (see note)
decide it; tournament field; (t-note)
Risk; sooner or later
(see note)
reach heaven; (see note)
In spite of; devil

Except; tests

(see note)
It is our duty to chatter like a mill

stick out; flax; (t-note)
against us
(see note); (t-note)


their noses
beat; exhausted

bow low to them
too well the set of Jack’s mind

uninterrupted possession; (see note)

complain; choose



  [The complaynte of the lewed housbandes with the cruwell aunswers of theyre wyves herde, the kyng givethe therupon sentence and jugement. (see note); (t-note)








This noble Prynce, mooste royal of estate,
Having an eyeghe to this mortal debate,
First adverting of ful hyeghe prudence,
Wil unavysed gyve here no sentence,
Withoute counseylle of haste to procede,
By sodeyne doome; for he takethe heede
To eyther partye as juge indifferent,
Seing the paryll of hasty jugement;
Pourposithe him in this contynude stryf
To gif no sentence therof diffynytyf,
Til ther beo made examynacyoun
Of other partye, and inquysicyoun.
He considerethe and makethe raysoun his guyde,
As egal juge enclyning to noo syde;
Notwithstanding he hathe compassyoun
Of the poure housbandes trybulacyoun,
So oft arrested with theyre wyves rokkes,
Which of theyre distaves have so many knokkes;
Peysing also, in his regallye,
The lawe that wymmen allegge for theyre partye,
Custume, nature, and eeke prescripcyoun,
Statuyt used by confirmacyoun,
Processe and daate of tyme oute of mynde,
Recorde of cronycles, witnesse of hir kuynde:
Wherfore the Kyng wol al this nexste yeere
That wyves fraunchyse stonde hoole and entier,
And that no man withstonde it, ne withdrawe,
Til man may fynde some processe oute by lawe,
That they shoulde by nature in theyre lyves
Have soverayntee on theyre prudent wyves,
A thing unkouthe, which was never founde.
Let men beware therfore or they beo bounde.
The bonde is harde, whosoo that lookethe weel;
Some man were lever fetterd beon in steel,
Raunsoun might help his peyne to aswaage,
But whoo is wedded lyvethe ever in servage.
And I knowe never nowher fer ner neer
Man that was gladde to bynde him prysonier,
Thoughe that his prysoun, his castell, or his holde
Wer depeynted with asure or with golde.

being heedful of; high

rash judgment

impartial judge


Considering; sovereignty
on their side
title of possession

natural order


carefully considers
would rather be fettered
far nor near; (see note)

decorated; (see note)


Go To Disguising at London