The Fifteen Joys of Marriage
Les Quinze Joyes de Mariage
Imprime à Paris par Jehan Treperel, demourant sur le pont Nostre Dame, a lymage Saint Laurent (undated facsimile edition).
Translation (c) Garay and Jeay.
Authorship of this volume is ascribed, by some scholars, to Antoine de la Sale (born 1388), but this supposition is based only on an acrostic device found on the Rouen manuscript. We cannot be certain whether this sardonic account of the “joys” of marriage was written by an anti-feminist cleric or one who had really experienced marriage for himself.
pp. xv - xlii.
The First Joy
The first joy of marriage is when the young man is in his first youth, when he is fresh, nimble and merry and cares for nothing except making love, composing ballads and singing them, looking at the most beautiful women, and considering where he may take his pleasure and find his delight, according to his station; and he doesn't worry about money, for probably he still has his father and mother or other kinsfolk who give him whatever he needs.
And although his life is easy and pleasant and he does what he likes, he can't endure it. Instead, he only looks at other good men who are held in the trap and thinks that they are enjoying themselves more because they have the bait beside them in the trap, that is to say, the woman, who is fair, neatly presented and sweetly dressed, with gowns that her husband has probably not paid for; for he has been deceitfully told that her father or mother gave them to her from their bountiful store.
The young man turns and explores around the trap and at last he enters it and is married; and, so hasty is he to snatch at the bait, that he makes few enquiries concerning necessary things; instead he plunges in at the market price.
Now the poor man is in the trap, he who formerly had no care except to sing and to buy points, silk purses and similar ornaments, to give to young women. He takes his pleasure and delight for a while and has no thought of escape until he has pondered a little ; but by then it is too late.
His wife must, perforce, be set up in a condition befitting her estate. And perhaps her heart is light and merry and at a feast the other day she saw the ladies and burgesses' wives or other women of her estate who were dressed in the new fashion; and she says within herself that it is appropriate, considering her lineage and kin,that she should be as well dressed as others.
Then she awaits the place and time and the hour to raise the matter with her good man. And women prefer to speak of their special matters in the place where their good men are more subservient and must be more inclined to grant their wishes, that is, in bed. There the fellow I speak of craves for his delights and pleasures, and it seems that he has nothing better to do. Then his wife begins and she says:
"My dear, please leave me alone, for I am very upset."
"My chuck !" says he, "what's the matter? "
"Certainly", says she, " I have good reason, but I can't say anything about it to you, since you never listen to me."
"My sweet chuck", says he, "why do you say such things to me?"
"By Our Lady, sir", says she, "Why should I tell you: for it's a thing you wouldn't consider important if I did tell you, and you would think I had some other motive."
"Truly", says he, "you must tell me."
Then she says: "Since you are so determined, I will tell you. My dear, you know that the other day I was at a feast, where you had sent me, and it gave me very little pleasure; for when I was there I think there was no woman, however base her estate, who was so poorly dressed as I. I don't say this to be vain, but, thanks be to God, I am as well-born as any woman there, be she lady or merchant's wife; I can establish that through my noble family tree. I don't mention it because of my attire, for I don't
care how I am dressed; but I was ashamed for love of you and my kin."
"Dear God!" says he, "my chuck, and how were they dressed at this feast?"
"By my faith", she says, "there was no one of my estate who did not have a scarlet or Malines gown or a fine green one, trimmed with good grey or short vair fur, with large sleeves and a high peaked hood to match, with a lining of red or green silk falling to the ground, all designed in the newest fashion. And I still have only my wedding gown, and that is faded and very short because I have grown since it was made, for I was still only a child when I was given to you and already I am so wrinkled and have endured so many sorrows that I look the mother of those whose daughter I might be. And certainly I was so ashamed while I was among them that I did not know not how to behave and hold up my
head. And it grieved me still more when the lady of such a place and the wife of such a one told me before them all that it was shame I was no better dressed. And, by my faith and truth, it is a long time since they have been to see me.
"Dear Lord! My chuck, let me speak: you know very well, my dear, that we are hard pressed, and you know also, my dear, that when we set up house together we had nothing, and have had to buy beds, bedding, room-furnishings and many other such things; and at present we have little money; and you know we must buy two oxen for our yeoman in such a place. And then the other day the gable of our barn fell down because the roof was damaged and it must be
repaired as quickly as possible. And then I must go to the court, at such a place, because of the case I am involved in concerning your land in that area, which brings me no income, or very little, and it is costing me a great deal."
"Ha! sir, I was sure you wouldn't remember anything but that land of mine."
Then she turns away onto her other side and says:
"In God's name, leave me alone, for I will never mention it again."
"My Lord", says the good man, "you are getting angry with me for nothing."
"Not so, sir ", says she, "for if you have nothing or very little, it is not my fault. And you know I was sought in marriage by such and such a one, and in a score of other houses, by those who asked nothing but my body, and you know you visited me so often that I would have none but you. Because of this my lord my father was unhappy with me, and he still is, for which I should hate myself. I think I am the most unhappy woman alive.
And I pray you, sir", says she, "to tell me if the wives of such and such a one (who sought to have me) are in the same state as I am? Certainly, they are not of such a noble house as I. By Saint John, the dresses they give their serving maids are better than those I wear on Sundays. I don't know why so many good people die, which is a sad thing; but, please God! I shall not live long. At least you would be rid of me and I should cease to be a burden to you."
"By my faith", says he, "my chuck, I don't like to hear this, for I would do anything to please you, but you should consider our circumstances: turn over to me and I will do whatever you want."
"In God's name", says she "let me alone, for, by my faith, I don't want to make love. Would to God you had never wanted it more than I; by my faith, ye would never have touched me."
"No?" said he.
"Certainly not", said she.
Then, trying to tempt her, he says to her:
"If I were dead, you would soon be married with another."
"Are you mad?" says she. "It would not be for any pleasure I have had. By God's blessed sacrament, never should a man's mouth touch mine; if I knew I should outlive you, I would make sure that I went first."
And then she starts weeping.
Thus the good woman restrains herself (no matter how much she might have wanted it) and the good man both rejoices and grieves at once; rejoices because he assumes her to be a cold woman and so pure that she is not attracted by such filthy pleasure and because he believes she loves him so much, and grieves, because he sees her weeping which causes him to be sore afflicted and moved and have no rest until she is comforted, and he tries in every way he can to do her pleasure. But she, who is preparing to strike the blow for her gown, will have none of it, but rises early at an unusual hour, and all day she is in such a foul mood that he may not get one pleasant word from her. When the next night comes, she goes to bed, and after she is in bed
the good man listens to see if she is asleep and looks to see if her arms are well covered and covers her if needed. Then she pretends to wake up. The good man says:
"Are you sleeping, chuck?"
"Certainly not", she says.
"Are you feeling better?"
"Better?" says she; "my sadness is a small thing. And
praised be God", says she, sighing. "I have enough since this is
"Dear Lord", says he, "chuck, if it is God's will, we shall have enough; I have thought it over, and I will put thee in such an estate that I guarantee you will be the best dressed woman at my cousin's wedding."
"Certainly", says she, "I shall go to no feast this year."
"Faith and truth, chuck, but you will, and you will have what you ask for."
"What I ask for!" says she. "Certainly, I ask for nothing. So help me God, I never said it from any desire to display myself, for I would rather never go out of our house, except to church, but I said it because of the words spoken between other people: for I was advised about it by my close friend who heard much talk about it and reported it to me."
Then the poor man (a new husband) thinks it over. He has many obligations, he has few possessions, and the gown will probably cost fifty or three score gold crowns; and, as he ponders, he can see no way to get the money, but nevertheless, he must have it, for he sees his spouse who (he thinks) is a very worthy and notable lady, and he praises God in his heart that he has been given such a valuable jewel. Then he tosses and turns and rolls from one side of the bed to the other, and all night he has no sleep to comfort him. And it often happens that the woman is so shrewd that she well knows what the outcome will be and she laughs to herself under the sheets.
When the day comes, the good man, who has contended with heavy thoughts all night, rises and goes about his business; and perhaps he gets the cloth and trimmings on credit and binds himself to the shop owner or he borrows or pledges ten or a score shillings of his yearly income, or he decides to sell an ancient jewel of gold or silver made in the time of his great-grandfather, which his father had bequeathed him; and he does so much that, in the end, he comes home with all things his dame required of him. But she pretends to take no joy in them and curses those that first invented such great display; and when she sees the thing is done and that he has brought the cloth and the trimmings, she says to him:
"My love, be careful that you never reproach me in future that you spent the money for my sake, for I would not
give a half-farthing for any gown in the world, as long as I am warmly clad."
In brief, the gown is made, the girdle and the hood, which are perhaps shown off at many a church and many a dance.
And the day comes when it is time to pay the creditors, and the poor man cannot pay, and they will not wait, and will have his goods sold or himself excommunicated, and the woman hears about this and sees the dilemma; and perhaps they take the very ornaments for which the debt was made. Then it happens that after the excommunication his fortunes grow worse and the woman must stay indoors. And God knows the delight and joy in which the good man lives and spends his days, for the woman rages through the house, saying:
"Cursed be the day I was born! Would that I had
died in my swaddling bands! Alas! Alas! Such great shame never fell upon a woman of my house, and on one so delicately nurtured and raised. Alas!" says she, "I must labour to oversee the household and all I can do and save is lost. I might have married into a score of families if I had wanted to, and lived with great respect and riches: for I know well how their wives are doing. Poor weary woman, why doesn’t Death come to release me?"
Thus the woman complains and gives not thought to her
responsibilities, but rather of the gowns and ornaments she craves and of the banquets and wedding-feasts she went to when she should have been at home thinking of her household, but she puts all the blame upon the poor man who probably has done nothing wrong. And moreover he is so distraught because of his debts that he doesn’t even realize that it was her fault.
Don’t ask about the sad thoughts that overcome the poor
man, who can neither sleep nor rest, but can only think how to calm his wife and to find some remedy for his debt. Despite everything, he is more troubled by his wife's distress than by anything else. So he mopes and falls into destitution and it is unlikely that he will ever recover from it once he has been brought down, but all this means but little to him. So he is caught in the trap and
perhaps he doesn’t regret it and if he were not in it, he
would soon enter. There he wastes his life and wastes
away and there will he end his days miserably.
The Second Joy
The second joy is when the woman feels herself to be an object of admiration, as is said, and knows that she is attractive (even if she is not, nevertheless, she imagines herself to be so) and she often goes to feasts, gatherings and pilgrimages : and sometimes her husband is not pleased; and therefore she schemes with her aunts, her close friend and her cousin, that perhaps is no relation to her, but is called cousin for a reason. And even her mother, that sometimes knows the business, hath told the poor man that it is her cousin, so that his heart may be lightened if it were burdened. And sometimes the good man, who does not want her to go, will claim he has no horse, or some other cause. Then
the aunt or the friend will say:
"By heavens, my friend or my nephew, it upsets me to go to feasts at this time, for I have many things to do at home; but, in God's name, were it not for your honour and mine, I wouldn’t have mentioned it; and, by my faith and truth, I know very well that my niece or my friend, your wife, finds no pleasure in such things, for of all women I know, she is the one most eager to depart when she gets there."
Then the good man is persuaded and asks who will take them and who will go with them.
"By my faith and truth, my friend or my nephew, there will be your lady, my niece's mother, your wife, the wife of such a one, my cousin and yours, and the other women of our street or near us: I dare say that for respectability and honour there will be as good company as would serve for a King's daughter."
And perhaps she that tells this tale is to have a gown or other adornment if she plays her part well, which often happens.
"I know well", says he, "that the company is fair and honourable; but she has much to do within doors and she is always gadding about the streets. But so be it", he says,"let her go this time; but be sure", he says to the woman, "come home before nightfall."
Then the wife, who sees full well that she now has permission to go, pretends that she hath no desire to go, and says:
"Ah, my dear heart", says she, "I have no will to go; please, let me stay at home."
"Indeed", says the aunt or the friend, "you shall go."
And then the good man takes the aunt aside and says to her:
"Friend, if it were not for the faith I have in you, I would not let her go."
"Indeed, friend, by God that made the world, you may certainly do so."
They set forth, and then they mock the good man and say to one another that he is certainly jealous but he doesn't do anything about it. On they go, and perhaps some among them have tried their luck at earlier feasts and mean to end their business now. God knows, the woman is flattered, served and honoured for love of her husband; God knows it well. Consider well how she takes care to dance and sing and how little she considers her husband when she sees herself so esteemed and praised. Then the gallants, who see her so well dressed and well-spoken, push forward towards her, one before the other; for a pleasant and forward manner in a woman gives boldness of speech to the lowly and
fainthearted. One gives her good words, gracious and pleasant; another treads on her foot or holds onto her hand; another looks at her sideways with a fixed and piteous gaze; another gives her a ring, a diamond or a ruby; whereby the woman may easily understand their desires if she has any skill in understanding reason. Then often she departs from the strait way and takes her pleasure and other things, and perhaps worse will come of it.
Now the poor man has gone into debt because of his wife's estate, the estate which is the cause of her going to feasts, where the gallants are gathered from all parts, and each of them, for his part, hopes only to deceive the poor man, and it is unlikely that he will escape. Yet he is the cause of his own shame. And it happens, after a long period, that either the woman or her admirer is unwary, or some kinsman or close friend of the good man says a word about it to him so that he finds out the truth or makes a shrewd guess about what is happening. Then he falls into a rage
of jealousy, into which no wise and sober man should ever
fall: for his wife's fault can never be healed by such behaviour; and then he will beat her, whereby his situation will grow worse, for she will never be chastened, and
by beating her he will only cast fuel on the fire of passionate love between her and her lover, yes, even if he were to cut off her limbs.
Whereby it happens that he loses his goods and becomes a feeble and falls into depression. And she will never love him thereafter, unless perhaps for her entertainment and to torment him.
Then the poor man lives in pain and torment, which he
thinks is joy. But he is fairly caught in the trap; and if he were not, he would rush into it; there he wastes his life, and always languishes and will end his days in misery.