Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies/Volume I/First Discourse (4.)

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NATHELESS must we herein greatly commend our brave and good Philip Augustus,[1] King of France, who after having put away his wife Angerberge, sister of Canute, King of Denmark, which was his second wife, under pretext she was his cousin in the third degree on the side of his first wife Ysabel, though others say he did suspect her of unfaithfulness, yet did the said King, under the weight of ecclesiastical censures, albeit he had married again elsewhere, take her back again, and so conveyed her home behind him on horseback, without the privity of the Diet of Soissons, that had been summoned to decide this very matter, but was too dilatory to come to any conclusion thereon.

Nowadays never a one of our great men will do the like; but the least punishment they do their wives is to shut them up in perpetual prison, on bread and water, poisoning them or killing them, whether by their own hand or by legal process. If they have so great a desire to be rid of them and marry others, as doth often happen, why do they not divorce them and honourably separate from them, without doing other hurt, and then ask power of the Pope to marry another wife? For surely what God hath joined together, man (without God's authority) may in no wise separate. Yet have we had sundry examples thereof, and notably those of our French Kings Charles VIII.[2] and Louis XII.[3] Whereanent I did once hear a great Theologian discourse, namely with regard to the late King Philip of Spain, who had married his niece, the mother of the present King, and this by dispensation. He said thus: "Either must we outright allow the Pope to be God's Vicegerent on earth, and so absolutely, or else not at all. If he is, as we Catholics are bound to believe, we must entirely confess his power as absolute and unbounded on earth, and without limit, and that he can tie and untie as good him seemeth. But if we do not hold him such, well, I am sorry for them that be in such error, but good Catholics have naught to do with them." Wherefore hath our Holy Father authority over dissolutions of marriage, and can allay many grave inconveniences which come therefrom to husband and wife, when they do ill agree together.

Certainly women are greatly blameworthy so to treat their husbands and violate their good faith, the which God hath so strongly charged them to observe. But yet on the other hand hath he straitly forbid murder, and it is highly detestable to Him, on whosesoever part it be. Never yet hardly have I seen bloody folk and murderers, above all of their wives, but they have paid dear for it, and very few lovers of blood have ended well, whereas many women that have been sinners have won the pity of God and obtained mercy, as did the Magdalen.

In very deed these poor women are creatures more nearly resembling the Divinity than we, because of their beauty. For what is beautiful is more near akin to God who is all beautiful, than the ugly, which belongeth to the Devil.

The good Alfonzo, King of Naples, was used to say how that beauty was a token of good and gentle manners, as the fair flower is token of a good and fair fruit. And insooth have I seen in my life many fair women who were altogether good; who though they did indeed indulge in love, did commit no evil, nor take heed for aught else but only this pleasure, and thereto applied all their care without a second thought.

Others again have I seen most ill-conditioned, harmful, dangerous, cruel and exceeding spiteful, naught hindering them from caring for love and evil-doing both together.

It may then well be asked,—why, being thus subject to the fickle and suspicious humour of their husbands, the which do deserve punishment ten times more in God's eyes, why they are so sorely punished? Indeed and indeed the complexion and humour of such folk is as grievous as is the sorry task of writing of them.

I speak next of yet another such, a Lord of Dalmatia, who having slain his wife's paramour, did compel her to bed habitually with his dead body, stinking carrion as it was. The end whereof was, the unhappy woman was choked with the evil stench she did endure for several days.

In the Cent Nouvelles of the Queen of Navarre will be found the most touching and saddest tale that can be read on this matter, the tale of that fair lady of Germany the which her husband was used to constrain to drink ever from the skull of her dead lover, whom he had slain. This piteous sight did the Seigneur Bernage, at that day ambassador in the said country for the French King Charles VIII., see and make report thereof.

The first time ever I was in Italy, I was told, when passing through Venice, what did purport to be a true story of a certain Albanian knight, the which having surprised his wife in adultery, did kill the lover. And for spite that his wife had not been content with him, for indeed he was a gallant knight, and well fitted for Love's battles, so much so that he could engage ten or twelve times over in one night, he did contrive a strange punishment, and so did seek out carefully in all quarters a dozen stout fellows of the right lecherous sort, who had the repute of being well and vigorously built and very adroit in action. These he took and hired, and engaged the same for money. Then he did lock them in his wife's chamber, who was a very fair woman, and gave her up to them, beseeching them one and all to do their duty thoroughly, with double pay if that they did acquit themselves really well. Thus did they all go at her, one after another, and did handle her in such wise that they did kill her,—to the great pleasure of her husband, who did cast it in her teeth, when she was nigh unto death, that having loved this pleasure so much, she could now have her fill thereof. Herein he but copied what Semiramis (or rather Thomyris) said, as she put Cyrus' head into a vessel full of blood. A terrible death truly!

The poor lady had not so died, if only she had been of the robust complexion of a girl that was in Cæsar's camp in Gaul. Two legions did pass, 'tis said, over her body in brief space; yet at the end of all she did dance a fling, feeling no hurt thereof.

I have heard speak of a Frenchwoman, town-bred, a lady of birth and of handsome looks, who was violated in our civil wars, in a town taken by assault, by a multitude of men-at-arms. On escaping away from these, she did consult a worthy Father as to whether she had sinned greatly, first telling him her story. He said, no!—inasmuch as she had been had by force, and deflowered without her consent, but entirely misliking the thing. Whereon she did make answer: "Now God be praised, for that once in my life I have had my fill, without sinning or doing offence to God!"

A lady of good quality, having been in like wise violated at the time of the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew, and her husband being dead, she did ask of a man of knowledge and right feeling, whether she had offended God, and whether she would not be punished of His sternness, and if she had not sorely wronged the manes of her husband, who had but only quite late been slain. He answered her, that if, when she was at this work, she had taken pleasure therein, then had she surely sinned; but if she had felt but disgust at. the thing, it was as if it had never been. A good and wise judgement!

I once knew well a lady who held quite other views, for she was used to say: Never did she feel so great a pleasure in these doings, as when she was half forced and all but violated as it were, and then was there much pleasure therein. The more a woman showeth herself rebellious and recalcitrant, so much the more doth the man wax ardent and push home the attack; and so having once forced the breach, he doth use his victory more fiercely and savagely, and thereby giveth more appetite to the woman. The latter is for very delight like one half dead and swooned, or so it seemeth; but really 'tis by reason of the extreme pleasure she findeth therein. Indeed the same lady did actually say further, that oftentimes she would make these ados and show resistance to her husband, and play the prudish, capricious and scornful wife, and so put him the more on his mettle. Whereby when he did come to it, both he and she did find an hundredfold more pleasure; for many writers have noted, a woman pleaseth better who makes some little difficulties and resistances than when she lets herself straightway be taken. So in War is a victory won by force more signalised and hailed with greater delight and enthusiasm than when had for nothing, and the triumph thereof is sweeter. Yet must not the lady in all this overdo the part of the peevish and evil-tempered jade, else may she likely be mistaken rather for a silly whore wishful to be playing of the prude. But at such interference would she be sore offended, to go by what I am told by such dames as are most versed and apt in these matters, to the whom I do appeal. For far be it from me to give them instruction in things they do understand much better than I!

Again, I have known many greatly blame some of these callous and murderous husbands on one count in especial, namely that, if their wives be whores, themselves are the cause of it. For, as Saint Augustine saith, it is great foolishness in an husband to demand chastity of his wife, himself being all the while plunged in the slough of lecherous living; for such mode of life as he doth claim from his wife, the same he should follow himself. Moreover we do read in Holy Scripture how that it is not expedient that the husband and wife love each other so excessively, meaning by this with a wanton and lecherous love. For in that case do they set all their heart and mind on lustful pleasures, and think so much of these and give themselves up so entirely to the same, as that they do neglect the love which they owe to God. Thus have I myself seen many women who so loved their husbands, and their husbands them, and burned for them with such ardour, as that both of them did forget God's service utterly, inasmuch as the time they should have given thereto, they did devote to their lecheries and employ the whole of it therein.

Furthermore, and this is a yet worse thing, these same husbands do teach their wives a thousand lecheries. The end is that for one fire brand of lust they have in their body to begin with, they do engender an hundred, and so make them exceeding lascivious, so that being so trained and instructed, they cannot later refrain themselves from leaving their husbands to go after other swains. Whereat are their husbands in despair, and do punish their poor wives sorely. Herein they do commit great injustice, for it is only natural the wives, whenas they feel their heart stirred with satisfaction at being so well trained, should then wish to show others all they know; but the husbands would fain have them hide their science. In all this is neither sense nor reason, no more than if a good horseman should have a well-trained horse, which could go all paces, and yet should suffer no man to see the same tried or to mount on its back, but should require folk to believe it on his mere word, and take the beast without other warranty.

I have heard tell of an honourable gentleman of the great world, who having fallen deep in love with a certain fair lady, was warned by a friend of his how that he was but wasting his time, seeing she did love her husband far too well. So one day he did contrive to make an hole which looked right into their room. Then when they were together, he failed not to spy at them through this hole, whereby he did behold the greatest lubricities and lecheries, and this as much, nay! even more, on the part of the wife than of the husband. Accordingly the next day he hied him to his comrade, and detailing all the fine sight he had had, did thus say to him: " The woman is mine, I tell you, so soon as ever the husband hath started on such and such a journey; for she will never be able for long to restrain herself under the ardour which nature and art as well have given her, but must needs assuage the same. And in this wise by dint of my perseverance shall I have her."

I know yet another honourable gentleman, the which being exceedingly enamoured of a fair and honourable lady, aware she had a copy of Aretino with pictures in her closet, as her husband well knew and had seen and did allow, straightway augured therefrom that he would overcome her. And so without losing hope, did he make love to her so well, and so long and patiently, that at the last he did win the day. And hereon did he find that she had indeed learned good lessons and excellent science, whether from her husband or from others, albeit neither the one nor the other had been her first masters, but Dame Nature rather, who was a better mistress therein than all the arts. Not but what the book and good practice had helped much in the matter, as she did later confess to him.

We read in ancient Writers of a great courtesan and procuress of the days of old Rome, by name Elephantiné,[4] who did make and invent postures or modes of the same sort as those of Aretino, but even worse, the which the great ladies and princesses of yore, following the ways of harlotry, did study as being a very excellent book.

Also that good dame and famous whore of Cyrené in Africa, who did bear the title of Dodecamechanos (she of the twelve devices), because she had discovered twelve several modes whereby to make the pleasure more wanton and voluptuous.

Heliogabalus[5] was used to hire and keep in his pay, at the expense of much money and costly gifts, such men and women as did invent and bring forward new devices of this kind, the better to arouse his lecherousness. Yea! and I have heard of other such that are like him among the great folk of our own day!

But a few years since did Pope Sixtus V. cause to be hanged at Rome a Secretary which had been in the service of the Cardinal d'Este and was named Capella, for many and divers offences,—but amongst other that he had composed a book of these same fine postures, the which were figured by a great ecclesiastic whom I will not name for sake of his cloth, and by a great lady, one of the fair dames of Rome, the whole shown to the life and painted in proper form and colour.[6]