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male sex was concerned, was very much out-of-doors, and that the women were left to themselves, and therefore sought society among themselves, and, as they had not this at home, they sought some common place of meeting. This place was the tavern, which, in the mediæval town, was, there can be no doubt, the great place of resort for both sexes. An early satirical writer, quoted from a manuscript in private hands by N. Achille Jubinal, telling of the tricks employed by the taverners to cheat their customers, says that thus they enrich themselves :
Qant les dames de la cité,
When the dames of the city,
The love of the bourgeoise for the tavern is continually alluded to by the early popular writers. In one of the French black-letter farces of the fifteenth century, a joker of the time is introduced, boasting of the wonderful inventions he has made, and among them is a method to make women hold their tongues ; this is, by giving them plenty to drink.
Baillez-leur à boire.
“Farce Nouvelle de Jenin Landore."
These farces were first made to enliven the dull mysteries, or religious plays, with which the medieval clergy sought to edify their congregations on certain occasions. When the hearers appeared to be too much wearied with the religious piece, or when it was judged probable that they might be, one of those farces was introduced between the scenes, the subject usually taken from vulgar life. Thus in the middle of the religious play of the Life of St. Fiacre, printed by M. Jubinal from a manuscript of the fifteenth century, a farce is introduced-cy est interposé une farsse, according to the stage direction in the manuscript,—the subject of which is a scene of popular life, the characters being men of the country instead of the town, but in this particular characteristic their manners appears not to have differed. A scuffle has taken place between a yeoman, a sergeant, or bailiff, and a brigand, in which the sergeant's arm is broken. The wives of the bailiff and yeoman meet in another scene, and the latter tells the former of her husband's mishap, at which she expresses her joy, inasmuch as he had beaten her severely the
night before, and she hopes he may be disabled from doing it again. The yeoman's wife then proposes to adjourn to a tavern :
Ma, suer, je scay une taverne,
Qui en avalle.
Sister, I know a tavern,
Who drinks of it.
Accordingly, they proceed to the tavern, and address themselves to the hostess :
Tavernière, ai Diex vous voie,
Hostess, with God's blessing,
So the women are shown into a private apartment, and are served with wine; and here they enter into a rather free conversation on the characters of their husbands, not much to the advantage of the latter. Says the wife of the bailiff :
Vous buvrés tout premièrement,
You shall drink first of all,
However, it turns out that the bailiff's hurt was not so great as had been supposed; and the drinking-room was not so secret ; but the women are alarmed soon after by seeing their husbands approach the tavern. They arrive, find their wives, and beat them, and, as their wives are very ready at defending themselves, the farce ends in a general scuffle. Such was burgher life in one of its lower phases.
There was another establishment peculiar to the mediæval towns which formed a favourite resort to the townswomen. All the Roman towns of any importance had their public baths, their thermæ, for which the popular name at the close of the Roman period appears to have been stuphæ, or some word nearly resembling it. The baths continued in the towns through the middle ages, and the same popular name was adopted both into the Romane languages and into the Teutonic. They were called in Italian stufe, in Provençal estubas, and in French estuves, or, in a later orthography, étuves ; in our own Anglo-Saxon, the word had taken the name of stofa, and in the
German dialect of the middle ages, that of stobe or stove. In English, the word took the form of styves, or stuwes, modernized into stews.* The women of the mediæval towns appears to have spent much of their time in these estuves. They met there as to a party of amusement, and often clubbed together provisions to make a “bancquet,” much in the manner of the fashionable pic-nics of the days of George III. The earlier French popular literature introduces us to the scenes which occurred on these occasions, but they are so coarse and disreputable that I will not venture to describe them here. In the manner in which they were conducted, these establishments offered so many facilities to discreditable intrigues, that they became known as houses of ill-fame. They continued to exist in France until rather a later period; in London, they were suppressed by King Henry VIII. in 1546. The name is now only known in a bad sense. In principle they were, of course, the representatives of the modern Turkish bath, and came originally from the same source.
The tone of society in the towns, as revealed by these scenes in the estuves, was extremely gross, and the language the women use, and the subjects of which they talk, would not bear repetition at the present day. This was, no doubt, less the case with the higher class of the bourgeoisie, though, in the Menagier de Paris, the women of this class are expressly warned against the use of obscene words and expressions. Morality, too, appears to have been at a low ebb, and the burgher women are represented as engaged continually in low intrigues, and as too often faithless to their husbands. Various circumstances conduced to this state of things. The women of the towns, and of the common class in the country, were left much to themselves, and were perhaps on that account more exposed to corruption. But the literature of the feudal ages, its tales and fabliaux, its satires, as well as the more serious records of social history, unite in destroying any doubt which might remain on our minds that the Romish priesthood, deprived of the privilege of marriage, were the great corruptors of female morality. This was chiefly the case outside the walls of the feudal castle. The clergy within—the chaplains of the feudal chieftain-were too widely separated in social level from the ladies of the household, and too close under the observation of the lord and his knights and esquires, to be of much danger. It was the parish priesthood especially, who mixed with their parishioners on a footing of equality, and, in fact, belonged
* It may be well to state, that, from this word are derived the English word stew' and stove, and the modern French word étuve (a stove).
generally, by blood, to the same class, who, armed with what I cannot but consider as the demoralizing system of auricular confession, were the great underminers of the social morals of the middle ages. In the popular stories of the time, every woman almost has a priest, or a “clerc,” or a monk for her lover, and not a few of the stories turn upon the alliance or rivalry of clergy and laity in the same pursuit. Moreover, a very considerable portion of the clergy, down to a very late period, so far set the regulations of the Church at defiance, that they lived with concubines, who were acknowledged by the parishioners as their wives, and were commonly spoken of as the "priestesses," who were considered as holding rather a high position in the popular society, and whose children were proud of their descent. The wife of Chaucer's Millar of Trumpington, was daughter of the parson of the town.
A wyf he hadde, come of noble kyn;
Chaucer, Cant. T., 1. 3940. and it is added immediately afterwards, –
And sche was proud and pert as is a pye (a magpie).
Ther durste no wight (creature) clepe (call) hir but madame ;
That with her dorste rage or elles pleye. The priests' wives, or priestesses (prétresses), formed quite a class in medieval society, although they were not acknowledged by the church.
The stories and satires generally describe the wife of the burgher as ill-tempered and quarrelsome, and as living more or less at discord with her husband, and she often beats him and tyrannizes over him. They are usually jealous of each other. The w
The woman's work is spinning, which was equally the case among the inhabitants of the country; for this seems to have been looked upon as the natural occupation of Womankind. In the fabliau of Barat and Haimet, belonging apparently to the thirteenth century, a robber in the country entering one day the house of a man who was absent in the wood, finds his wife at home spinning.
Sa fame ont trovée filant. The women assembled together at their work, just as they did in the étuves or baths, brought their provisions and made pic-nics, and thus often spent their long evenings, gossiping over their work, talking of the doings of their husbands, telling scandalous stories of their neighbours, and discussing miscellaneous subjects connected
with their superstitions and popular prejudices. The conversation supposed to have taken place on one of these occasions was formed in the middle of the fifteenth century into that most curious of early popular books, “ Les Evangiles des Quenouilles,” The Gospels of the Distaffs.*
The illuminations of the manuscripts furnish us with few illustrations of the social life of the yeomanry or of the peasantry during the period I am now describing. It appears to have been less known to, or to have been regarded more contemptuously by, the medieval artists than that of the other classes. The accompanying cut is taken from a manuscript of the Dance of Death of the fifteenth
century, in the Imperial Library in Paris. It represents a country labourer and a village woman of the fifteenth century. The female has a grey dress, with a brown apron, and she has red sleeves over those of the dress. Her head-covering is white. She carries a basket, which appears to contain bottles, on her head, just as it would be carried by many a woman of the peasantry at the present day, and she carries another basket on her arm. The illuminator probably intended to represent her coming from, or going to,
* A very nice edition of this book has been published in Paris in the Bibliothèque Elzevirienne, and may be had at a moderate price.