Tag Archives: Ashmole 61

The Governans of Man

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 9.48.07 AM

“For helth of body cover fro cold thi hede,” begins John Lydgate’s “Dietary,” within Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 61 (pictured above on folio 107r). The piece was extremely popular in  various versions, and consequently survived within fifty-seven manuscripts, along with several early prints.

While the brevity of the work in Ashmole 61 is odd, the abridged version is not anomalous to the manuscript, and actually serves as an excellent survey of what might today be deemed homeopathic remedy in the Middle Ages since it cautions that “if so be that lechys do thee fayll,” and “if fysske lake, make this thy governans,” with the implication that there is an alternative to formal medicine and science that is found solely within the human body which is capable of self preservation.

According to Lydgate, the cure for all ailments can be achieved through “temperat dyet and temperate traveyle.” In other words, as the common idiom states much later, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (which ironically Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare facilty, adapted), is at the heart of Lydgate’s prescription that boasts an independence from traditional healthcare.

The first stanza sets the tone for the entire piece:

For helth of body cover fro cold thi hede.
Ete non raw mete — take gode hede therto —
Drynke holsom drynke, fede thee on lyght brede,
And with apytyte ryse fro thi mete also.
With women agyd, flesschly have not to do.
Uppon thi sclepe drynke not of the coppe.
Glad towerd bede, at morow also,
And use thou never overlate to sope.

The first sentence is in line with common sense, denoting the piece will rely on rational instruction to guide its readers since the extremities of the body are first to feel cold, and covering one’s head can prevent chills, sniffles, headaches, and an entire line of maladies.

It proceeds in this vein to warn against raw meat that could potentially cause all sorts of illnesses, especially since sushi was not yet a delicacy in medieval times. Then the nuanced conduct manual delves into that which it promises via its title, dietary advice, prescribing moderation of food and drink. Interestingly, unlike other variances of this text, here the caution is towards “drynke” whereas elsewhere it states “wyne.” This is a difficult situation due to the context in which this piece is found; Rate, the self identified scribe of this manuscript, is obviously conservative by nature (a judgement I, and others, have made based on the other pieces he has chosen to include, and the ways in which he has altered the originals), making the exclusion of “wyne” seem inevitable despite other scribes and authors showing similar preferences. Either way, even when erasing the traces of alcohol from one’s diet, the concept of moderation and temperance remain, reminding the reader that temperance governs man, or at the very least, should.

The second stanza serves to solidify the premises of the first:

If so be that lechys do thee fayll,
Make this thi governans if that it may be:
Temperat dyet and temperate traveyle,
Not malas for non adversyté,
Meke in trubull, glad in poverté,
Riche with lytell, content with suffyciens,
Mery withouten grugyng to thy degré.
If fysyke lake, make this thy governans.

Clearly a fifteenth century audience needed didactic literature for everyday occurrences, or at the very least was interested in reading reminders on simple methods of conduct such as moderate eating, drinking, and the collection of seemingly frivolous earthly items “withouten grugyng to thy degré.”

The work continues in this vein:
To every tale to sone gyff thou no credens;
Be not to hasty, ne to sothanly vengeable,
To pore folke do thou no vyalens.
Curtas of langage, of fedyng meserable,
Of sondry metys not gredy at thy tabull,
In fedyng gentyll, prudent in dalyens,
Close of tunge, not defameabull;
To sey thy best sette ever thy plesans.

The desideratum for educational pieces was prevalent among Lydgate’s contemporaries, as evident by the numerous extant witnesses to such works such as “How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter,” or “How the Wise Man Taught His Son,” both of which can be found within the same miscellany as “The Dietary.” In this light it only makes sense Lydgate would want to participate in the genre and produce a similar work that instructs its audience on proper conduct, if even if it is not of the variety primarily concerned with morals or social norms.

However, by the fourth and fifth stanzas it begins to digress specifically into those topics generally reserved for conduct manuals on morals and virtue:

Have in dyspyte mothys that be doubull;
Suffer at thy tabull no detrasion,
Not supportyng the werkys that be full of trubull,
All fals rouners and adulacion.
Within thy courte suffer no dyvysion
That within thy hous myght cause gret unes.
Of all welfare, prosperyté, and fuson,
With thy neyghbors lyve in rest and pes.

Be clenly clothyd after thyn astate;
Passe not thi bondys, kepe thi promys blyve.
With thre maner folke be thou not at bate:
Fyrst with thy better bewere for to stryve.
With thy suget and neyghbors to stryve it were scham;
Werefor I counsyll to pursew all thy lyve
To lyve in pese and gete thee a gode name,
And thus to lyve worschypfuly with man and wyve.

Note the conservative strain of the argument where the reader is instructed to adhere to rules of proper dress according to their own estate, perhaps directed towards those who overstep their bounds into a higher class structure than would seem permissible (recall the five tradesmen of the Canterbury Tales who take it upon themselves to behave outside of societally prescribed roles). Nevertheless, even within this edict there is a hint towards moderation where one does not use their station to broadcast too little or too much of themselves.

By the sixth stanza the work renegotiate’s its primary topic and returns to prescribing proper conduct solely concerned with one’s physical health:

Fyrst at morn and towerd bede at eve,
Ageyn mystys blastys and the aire of pestylens
Be tymly at messe — thou may the better cheve;
Fyrst at thy rysing to God do reverens.
Vysete the pore with intere dyligence,
Upon all nedy have compassyon,
And God schall send thee grace and influence
Thee to increse and thy possessyon.

Yet, while the apparent concerns of the stanza reside within the physical realm, there is an indisputable tie to imagery of the soul, and further to a spirituality reliant upon a division between the everlasting, the ephemeral, and the tangent, with an indication that the former would be victorious. Throughout the manuscript there is an abundance of orthodox piety preserved within each text, carefully chosen and placed next to others of its kin. The “Dietary” is placed right in between two such texts, “The Lament of Mary,” and “Maidstone’s Seven Penitential Psalms,” serving a dual purpose in its placement. The physical and earthly concerns of the piece offer a respite from the adjacent heavily devotional and emotional texts, while the moral interludes within the “Dietary” create a smooth transition and linking system to aid with the flow between the pieces. In other words, as the reader moves from the highly passionate lament, the dietary offers some breathing room before entering the psalms that are equally laden with vigorously dramatic language.

Thus, after Lydgate’s short interjection of moral conduct within this stanza there once again reemerges the themes associated with physical health:

Suffer no surfytys in thy hous at nyght;
Were of rere-sopers and of grete excese
And be wele ware of candyll lyght,
Of sleuth on morow and of idelnes,
The whych of all vyces is chefe, as I gesse.
And avoyd all lyghers and lechers,
And all unthryftys — exile this excesse —
And mainly dyse pleyers and hasardours.

But he cannot abstain from moral instruction, and with each turn towards the physical he encompasses a full spectrum of cautionary words ranging from eating too much too late at night to avoiding liars and lechers. At a glance this appears to be a very disorganized conduct piece that leapfrogs in between topics – a result of an author who cannot make up his mind as to which dimensions of daily life he wants to inform his readers about. However, it is this very information that is most useful for modern readers as it allows a glimpse into medieval lifestyles and consequently those things that were important to remember (in whatever order they are presented). More so, they echo sentiments with which we are quite familiar today and evince the similarities between our own understandings of healthy living and those found in the Middle Ages.

And off again Lydgate goes, in a flux between physical and spiritual activities:

After mete bewere: make not long slepe;
Hede, fete, and stomoke preserve from colde.
Be not pensyve, of thought take no kepe.
After thi rent mayntayn thi housolde.
Suffer in tyme, and in thi ryght be bolde;
Suere non othys no man to begyle.
In youth be lusty and sade when thou arte old,
For werldly joy lastys bot a whyle.

Drynke not at morow befor thyn apetyte;
Clere ayre and walkyng makys gode degestyon.
Betwyx mele drynke not for no delyte,
Bot thyrst or traveyll gyfe thee occasyon.
Oversalte metys doth grete oppresyon
To febull stomokys that can not refreyn,
For thyngys contrary to ther complexcion
Therof ther stomokys hath grete peyn.

The last stanza beautifully sums up our experience of reading the text thus far:

Thus in two thyngys stondys thi welthe
Of saule and of body, who lyst them serve:
Moderate fode gyffes to man hys helthe,
And all surfytys do fro hym remeve.
Charyté to thy saule it is full dewe.
Thys resate is of no potykary,
Of mayster Antony ne of master Hew;
To all deserent it is Dyatary.

Here Lydgate makes clear his conscious concerns with both body and soul as the “two thyngys stondys thi welthe,” overtly stating his intentions for the piece, and making clear the distinctions he set out to discuss – his discourse is not a wayward diatribe devoid of meaning and haphazardly fluctuating between various modes of moderation. He understands the connection between spirituality and good health and how the two are dependent upon each other. Much like one who is not in a good state of mind reflects his distress through physical ailment, so does one’s spiritual well being transmit to their demeanor and comport.

In short, man must diet, or restrain to moderation, both his body and soul, as those practices best govern man, or according to Lydgate and his audience, should.


Ebin, Lois A. John Lydgate.

Getz, Faye. Medicine in the English Middle Ages.

Pearsall, Derek. John Lydgate.

Rawcliffe, Carol. Medicine and Society in Later Medieval England.

Schirmer, Walter Franz. John Lydgate: A Study in the Culture of the XVth Century.

“of gode tonge” – Female Speech in Medieval Texts

40-2-MS. Ashmole 61, fol.17r.jpg2000x5763

(Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 61, folio 17r)

“She should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times,” came the formal prescription for women from the deputy prime minister of Turkey, Bulent Arinc, on July 29, 2014, (Agence France-Presse) echoing sentiments in medieval conduct manuals that instructed women to “laughe thou not lowd, be thou therof sore” (item 4, line 50). Though five hundred years elapsed between these quotes, for women, virtue across time came through silence. Within the 208 lines, excluding the brief colophon, of “How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter” from which the latter quote is extracted in the transcription of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 61, there are 11 mentions of activities concerning the mouth, and all of them are considered unfavorable. While the manuscript as a whole is a late medieval miscellany that unequivocally tries to entertain with the higher purpose to instruct, two adjacent pieces in particular, “How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter” and “How the Wise Man Taught His Son” emphasize through complementary means the problematic disparities in the treatment of sons and daughters, men and women.

Proper conduct and socially desirable behavior most often result in prescriptions that place restrictions upon a person in an attempt at refinement. In looking at these two specific instances within Ashmole 61, a deeper reflection on word choice intones the philological dissimilarity of these structurally parallel texts. The manuscript begins with Saint Eustace, generally considered a hagiography despite that its popularity has long resided with its narrative prowess and penchant for entertaining, clearing setting the tone as one that will strike a delicate balance between topics of virtue and those of adventure, often combining them within a single work – morals, manners, and virtue were for most purposes indistinguishable to a Middle Ages audience (Wood 23). Withal, the “Good Wife” piece is set squarely within the framework to instruct on manners and its accompanying qualities, as evident from the beginning that asserts the text will help the daughter who reads it to “mend hyr lyfe and make her better” (line 4). The betterment promised comes with the price of restraint, and the female voice is the first casualty.

The same conclusions cannot be drawn from the accompanying “Wise Man” work. Even as it cautions the young male reader that “thi tonge may be thy fo” (line 35), the uses for the male voice vary greatly; when a man’s mouth is not being used to thank God, his voice is used as a means to control, and is therefore not perceived as the female counterpart that is inherently incontrollable, in constant need of a reminder that “drounke to be, it is thi schame” (line 72), or forewarned to “make no jangelyng” (line 22).

One of the most relevant repercussions to women following the Gregorian Reforms of the eleventh century was their removal of magisterium vocis, or public preaching (Kienzle 737). As restrictions further increased, “when a teaching or preaching woman [was] encountered in twelfth and thirteenth century medieval sources her ability to speak about divine matters [was] generally attributed to charism of prophesy rather than to intelligence (Muessig 147). In the few instances when women attempted activities relatively close to preaching and were successful in their endeavors, they were immediately relegated to categories of divinity, as their voices bore supernatural gifts. Of course the implication of “supernatural” is also “unnatural,” since the rational needed for disseminating the meaning of scripture was not reserved for women. Even as education improved, female abilities according to male patrons continued to rely on notions of divine inspiration, and various forms of preaching became understood as prophecy to be written and interpreted by hagiographers (Mooney 132). In other words, as Thomas Chobham stated, women could deliver moral lessons, but not explain their meaning in the traditional sense of preaching. Highly literate women were no more than mouthpieces to read scripture, refraining from any commentary, practicing the silence and obedience that was expected of them. Consequently, as restrictions upon the activities with which the female voice could engage became more stringent, women’s speech became suppressed not just in church, or in regards to scripture, but over time within the larger realm of the public sphere. Even as these prescriptions were occurring two or more hundreds of years before Ashmole 61’s composition, just as the same indictments survived into modern day politics where prime ministers deliver criticisms on conduct to women, so, too, the edicts and ramifications of the Gregorian Reforms were felt centuries later.

Felicity Riddy argues that women were being censored due to what she referred to as the new “bourgeois ethos” (Riddy 67) which carried with it the common attitude that young adults needed to be properly socialized, with the locus of these efforts being produced in the homes where they lived, whether they were parental properties, or ones where the young were sent to work and/or learn. However, this only explains the reasoning for these manuals’ existences, but does not account for their gendered disparities.

The conduct manuals became the result of stifled voices finding means of expression, and progressed through various stages from the Gregorian Reforms to circa 1500 when “The Good Wife” was produced in the version offered by Ashmole 61. Since formal preaching was not allowed over the previous centuries, and women could not overtly expound on scripture, other mediums offered the necessary avenues for alternate mechanisms of preaching. While some women, such as Hildegard von Bingen, embraced their status as prophetesses and used it to articulate their beliefs, Hildegard, too, found different routes of expression (Silvas 45). Entertainment became an increasingly popular method as it allowed moral lessons to be performed trough various means.

However, entertainment served the dual purpose as tools for women to use, but also the very means through which women were also instructed, and controlled. Between 1392 and 1394, over a hundred years prior to Ashmole 61’s existence, appeared Le Menagier de Paris, constructed by a wealthy Parisian husband to serve as an instruction manual for his soon to be young wife. This is one instance among many of such conduct manuals over the centuries leading up to Ashmole 61, however, this particular one takes as its exemplum Petrarch’s translation of Tale 10 in Book X of Boccaccio’s Decameron that coincidently is also the model for the Clerk’s Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which within its possibly entertaining narrative features the epitome of female silence and consequent submission. In other words, the resounding theme for female obedience and proper upbringing relies upon the woman’s silence and acquiescence to men. As Griseldis is told “never ye to grucche” (line 354) Walter’s commands, so is the wife-to-be in Le Managier instructed to “keep silent” during those times her husband troubles her most (Pichon 125).

In the “Good Wife,” the line directly following the assertion that the piece will enhance the reader’s life, is followed by the further indisputable contention that “Doughter, and thou wylle be a wyfe” (line5). Thus the, albeit brief, instruction manual commences, outlining the trajectory to proffered betterment via the route of censure and restraint. Like Hildegard did at one point as a predecessor to the conduct manual form, and much like two separate cases later in the thirteenth century of Marie d’Oignies (King 17) and Christina of St. Trond (Muessig 150) who used song as their choice channels of communication demonstrate, female instruction survived and each century found a different avenue for its existence, while the very subject matter morphed and reconfigured to reflect contemporarily relevant material and concerns. Nevertheless, historically women’s words based on “experience though noon auctoritee” (WBPro 1) have been anxiety inducing and in need of social intervention. While the scribe of Ashmole 61, who self identified as Rate, was more than likely male, the “Good Wife” piece, according to Tauno F. Mustanoja was also probably written by a man who was more than likely a cleric since the first known appearance of this text was within a friar’s handbook around 1350, now comprised within Cambridge, Emmanuel College MS 106 (Mustanoja 126).

There is in fact nothing to denote that the piece had been written or originally composed by a woman – there is only an implication that the work sets out to outline precisely what the title states, or how the good wife taught her daughter, without any overt indication of factuality. Therefore, it can be argued that the piece, written by a man, was in direct opposition to those facets of covert female preaching and instruction, and in fact subverted the genre which allowed female agency and participation into the male dominated sphere of influence, overtly prescribing how women, according to society, should be instructed and should behave.

Preaching and instruction come in various forms, and chiding is an appendage in the family of education. Yet, while men are told “thi wyfe thou schall not chide” (line 45), they are simultaneously instructed to “late feyre wordys be thi yerd” (line 42), using language, and consequently their voice, to strike fear into the hearts of their wives. Further, chiding only carries a negative definition for the man as it may engender others to follow suit and defame his wife, thus adversely affecting him, with little to no regard towards her. The daughter is cautioned “for and thou any chyder be, / Thy neyghbors wyll speke thee vylony” (lines 105-6) implying her words do not overstep the boundaries of the self and do not carry with them the power to effect others; her words will be her ruin alone. In short, chiding here is gendered, and can result in respectively different consequences.

In the Middle Ages chiding was associated with the Seven Deadly Sins, and was often was cautioned against. Chaucer’s Parson’s Tale warns that “chidynge and reproche, whiche been ful grete woundes in mannes herte, for they unsowen the semes of freendshipe in mannes herte” (line 621), while attributing the act of chiding to the larger sin, Wrath, or Ire, with the understanding that men chide out of spite and anger. William Langland’s Piers Plowman places chiding in the more traditional category of a personified Envy, whose “chief lyflode” was “Of chydynge and of chalengynge” (Passus 5 line 5087) out of jealousy for another’s well being. The concept of chiding as a means of sinning occurs in multiple medieval texts and across genres, and the distinction of which sin it represents is but a nuanced argument in which the essential link between its various placements rely on it’s “corruption of truth through verbal destructiveness,” (Baldwin 256) regardless of the initial motivation.

However, even as the concept of chiding carries a negative connotation for both genders, the perception that a woman will “werke hyr werst, that is here lyste” (“Wise Man” line 60) adds another component, that of inherent malice, to further corrupt the already undesirable trait. In other words, a woman does not chide solely out of anger, or envy, but because that is her nature, which makes her all the more wicked. Thus the female mouth is deceptive, malicious, unruly, and in need of governance, which explains the disparity between the two texts in Ashmole 61. “How the Good Wife Taught Her Daughter” and “How the Wise Man Taught His Son” both function as conduct manuals, but their concerns cater to the perceptions associated with each gender. As men must use their mouths to first worship God, and the neglect to do so is a cause for anxiety, women’s mouths were intrinsically unworthy, and all which went in or out was immoderate as it provided a woman the opportunity to open her mouth. According to Joyce E. Salisbury, “the metaphor of sexual women being ‘open’ was pervasive, and this openness was also extended to include such things as garrulousness – that is, women with open mouths” (Salisbury 87). Withal, the metaphor can extend even further to include all that is associated with the female mouth, including drinking, eating, and not just gossiping, but speaking in general.

The Gregorian Reforms of the eleventh century cautiously allowed women to continue reading sacred scripts while removing all else from them that might condone creating anything with their mouths, or interpreting those things they have read. While women found means of subterfuge over the centuries in order to continue presenting their ideas, the nervousness caused by their supposed propensity for immoderate use of their mouths was too deep seated to dispel, even over time. Therefore, much like women were censured in the high Middle Ages, so were they coaxed and admonished to be “of gode tonge” (“Good Wife” line 24) in the late Middle Ages within the pages of Ashmole 61, a manuscript that clearly held on to traditional values, and as Bulent Arinc previously demonstrated, thusly they continue in the same vein among conservatives around the globe today.

Here is a link for those of you unfamiliar with the manuscript cited above.

Further, in order to save space, here are two fabulous transcriptions of both texts I have been working with- Son and Daughter.


Agence France-Presse “Turkish deputy prime minister says women should not laugh out loud.” World News. The Guardian, 29 July, 2014. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

Baldwin, Anna. A Guidebook to Piers Plowman. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.

Fisher, John H., Ed. The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer. New York:       Hold, Rinehart and Winston, 1977.

Kienzle, Beverly Mayen. “Sermons and Preaching.” Women and Gender in Medieval        Europe: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Margaret Schaus. New York: Routledge, 2006.         736-740.

King, Margot H. Two Lives of Marie d’Oignies: The Life of Jacques de Vitry. Toronta:      Peregrina, 1998.

Langland, William. The Vision of Piers Plowman. London and New York: J.M. Dent          and E.P. Dutton, 1978. (transcription of B Text)

Mooney, Catherine M. “Authority and Inspiration in the Vitae and Sermons of Humility             of Faenza.” Medieval Monastic Preaching. Ed. Carolyn Muessig. Koln: Brill, 1998. 123-144.

Muessig, Carolyn. “Prophecy and Song: Teaching and Preaching by Medieval Women.”    Women Preachers and Prophets Through Two Millennia of Christianity. Eds.        Beverly Mayne Kienzle, and Pamela Walker. Berkeley: UP, 1998. 146-158.

Mustanoja, Tauno F., Ed. The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter, The Good Wyfe Wold a   Pylgremage, and The Thewis of Gud Women. Helsinki, 1948.

Pichon, Jerome, Ed. Le Menagier de Paris. Paris: Crapelet, 1846. 2 vols.

Riddy, Felicity. “Mother Knows Best: Reading Social Change in a Courtesy Text.”           Speculum 71.1 (1996): 66-86. Web.

Salisbury, Joyce E. “Gendered Sexuality.” Handbook of Medieval Sexuality. Vern L.          Bullough and James A. Brundage, Eds. New York: Garland, 1996. 81-102.

Shuffelton, George, Ed. Codex Ahsmole 61: A Compilation of Popular Middle English        Verse. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publicatons, 2008.

Silvas, Anna. Trans. Jutta and Hildegard: The Biographical Sources. Pennsylvania: UP,   1999.

Thomas of Chobham. Summa de arte praedicandi. Ed. Franco Morenzoni. Corpus            Christianorum Continuation Medivalis 82. Turnhout: Brepols, 1988.

Wood, Charles T. The Quest for Eternity: Manners and Morals in the Age of Chivalry.     Darthmouth: UP, 1983.