Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies/Volume I/First Discourse (6.)

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6.

WHAT are we to say now of some husbands which be not content only to procure themselves entertainment and wanton pleasure with their wives, but do give the desire therefor to others also, their companions, friends and the like? For so have I known several which do praise their wives to these, detail to them their beauties, picture to them their members and various bodily parts, recount the pleasure that they have with them, and the caresses —their wives do use towards them, make them kiss, touch and try them, and even behold them naked.

What do such deserve? Why! that they be cuckolded right off, as did Gyges, by the means of his ring, to Candaules,[1] King of the Lydians. For the latter, fool that he was, having bepraised to Gyges the rare beauty of his wife, and at the last having shown her to him stark naked, he fell so madly in love with her that he did what seemed him good and brought Candaules to his death and made himself master of his Kingdom. 'Tis said the wife was in such despite and despair at having been so shown by her husband to another man, that she did herself constrain Gyges to play this traitorous part, saying thus to him: "Either must he that hath constrained and counselled you to such a thing die by your hand, or else you, who have looked on me in my nakedness, must die by the hand of another." Of a surety was the said King very ill advised so to rouse desire for a fresh dainty, so good and sweet, which it rather behoved him to hold very specially dear and precious.

Louis, Duke or Orleans,[2] killed at the Barbette Gate of Paris, did the exact opposite. An arrant debaucher was he of the ladies of the Court, and that even of the greatest among them all. For, having once a very fair and noble lady to bed with him, so soon as her husband came into his bedchamber to wish him good-morrow, he did promptly cover up the lady's head, the other's wife's that is, with the sheet, but did uncover all the rest of her body, letting him see her all naked and touch her at his pleasure, only with express prohibition on his life not to take away the linen from off the face, nor to uncover it in any wise, a charge he durst not contravene. Then did the Duke ask him several times over what he thought of this fair, naked body, whereat the other was all astonished and exceeding content. At the last he did get his leave to quit the chamber, and this he did without having ever had the chance to recognize the woman for his own wife.

If only he had carefully looked over her body and examined the same, as several that I have known, he would mayhap have recognized her by sundry blemishes. Thus is it a good thing for men to go over sometimes and observe their wives' bodies.

She, after her husband was well gone, was questioned of M. d'Orléans, if she had felt any alarm or fear. I leave you to imagine what she said thereto, and all the trouble and anguish she was in by the space of a quarter of an hour, seeing all that lacked for her undoing was some little indiscretion, or the smallest disobedience her husband might have committed in lifting the sheet. 'Twas doubtless M. d'Orléans' orders, but still he would surely, on his making discovery, have straightway slain him to stay him of the vengeance he would have wrought on his wife.

And the best of it was that, being the next night to bed with his wife, he did tell her how M. d'Orléans had let him see the fairest naked woman he had ever beheld, but as to her face, that he could give no news thereof, seeing the sight of it had been forbid him. I leave you to imagine what the lady must have thought within her heart. Now of this same lady and M. d'Orléans 'tis said did spring that brave and valiant soldier, the Bastard of Orleans, the mainstay of France and scourge of England, from whom is descended the noble and generous race of the Comtes de Dunois.

However to return to our tales of husband too ready to give others sight of their wives naked, I know one who, on a morning, a comrade of his having gone to see him in his chamber as he was dressing, did show him his wife quite naked, lying all her length fast asleep, having herself thrown her bed-clothes off her, it being very hot weather. So he did draw aside the curtain half way, in such wise that the rising sun shining upon her, he had leisure to contemplate well and thoroughly at his ease, which doing he beheld naught but what was right fair and perfect. On all this beauty then he did feast his eyes, not indeed as long as he would, but as long as he could; and after, the husband and he went forth to the Palace.

The next day, the gentleman who was an ardent lover of this same honourable lady, did report to her the sight he had seen, and even described many things he had noted. He said further it was the husband which did urge him thereto, and he and no other had drawn the curtain for him to see. The lady, out of the despite she then conceived against her husband, did let herself go, and so gave herself to his friend on this only account,—a thing which all his service and devotion had not before been able to win.

I knew once a very great Lord, who, one morning, wishing to go an-hunting, and his gentlemen having come to find him at his rising, even as they were booting him, and he had his wife lying by him and holding him right close to her, he did so suddenly lift the coverlet she had no time to move away from where she rested, in such wise that they all saw her as much as they pleased even to the half of her body. Then with a loud laugh did the Lord cry to these gentlemen there present: "Well, well! sirs, have not I let you see enough and to spare of my good wife?" But so vexed and chagrined was she at it all that she did conceive a great grudge against him therefor, and above all for the way she had been surprised. And it may well be, she did pay it back to him with interest later on.

I know yet another of these great Lords, who learning that a friend and kinsman of his was in love with his wife, whether to make him the more envious or to make him taste all the despite and despair he might conceive at the thought of the other possessing so fair a woman, and he having never so much as a chance of touching her, did show her him one morning, when he had come to see him, the pair being a-bed together. Yea! he did even worse, for he did set about to embrace her before his eyes, as though she had been altogether in a privy place. Further he kept begging of his friend to see, saying he was doing it all to gratify him. I leave you to imagine whether the lady did not find in such conduct of her husband excuse to do likewise in all ways with the friend, and of good conscience, and whether he was not right well punished by being made to bear the horns.

I have heard speak of yet another, likewise a great Lord, who did the same with his wife before a great Prince, his master, but, 'twas by his prayer and commandment, for he was one that took delight in this form of gratification. Now are not such like persons blameworthy, for that after being pandars to their own wives, they will after be their executioners too?

It is never expedient for a man to expose his wife, any more than his lands, countries or places. And I may cite an example hereof which I did learn from a great Captain. It concerns the late M. de Savoye, who did dissuade the late King of France,[3] when on his return from Poland he was passing through Lombardy, and counselled him not to go to Milan or enter therein, alleging that the King of Spain might take umbrage thereat. But this was not the real cause at all; rather was he afraid lest the King being once there and visiting all quarters of the city, and beholding its beauty and riches and grandeur, might be assailed by an overwhelming desire to have it again and reconquer it by fair and honest right, as had done his predecessors. Now this was the true reason, as a great Prince said who knew the fact from our late King, who for his part quite well understood what the restriction meant. However, to be complaisant to M. de Savoye, and to cause no offence on the part of the King of Spain, he took his march so as to pass by the city, albeit he had all the wish in the world to go thither, by what he did me the honour to tell me after his return to Lyons. In this transaction we cannot but deem M. de Savoye to have been more of a Spaniard than a Frenchman.

I deem those husbands likewise very much to blame who after having received their life by favour of their wives, are so little grateful therefor, as that for any suspicion they have of their intriguing with other men, do treat them exceeding harshly, to the extent of making attempt upon their lives. I have heard speak of a Lord against whose life sundry conspirators having conspired and plotted, his wife by dint of her prayers did turn them from their purpose, and saved her husband from being assassinated. But nevertheless later on was she very ill rewarded by him and entreated most cruelly.

I have seen likewise a gentleman who, having been accused and brought to trial for very bad performance of his duty in succouring his General in a battle, so much so that he had left him to be killed without any help or succour at all, was nigh to be sentenced and condemned to have his head cut off, and this notwithstanding 20,000 crowns the which he did give to save his life. Thereupon his wife spake to a great Lord holding high place in the world, and lay with him by permission and at the supplication of the said husband; and so what money had not been able to do, this did her beauty and fair body effect, and she did save him his life and liberty. Yet after he did treat her so ill as that nothing could be worse. Of a surety husbands of the sort, so cruel and savage, are very pitiful creatures.

Others again have I known who did quite otherwise, for that they have known how to show gratitude to those that helped them, and have all their life long honoured the good dame that had saved them from death.

There is yet another sort of cuckolds, those who are not content to have been suspicious and difficult all their life, but when going to leave this world and on the point of death, are so still. Of this sort knew I one who had a very fair and honourable lady to wife, but yet had not always given her all to him alone. When now he was like to die, he said to her repeatedly: "Ah! wife mine, I am going to die! And would to God you could have kept me company, and you and I could have gone together into the other world! My death had not then been so hateful to me, and I should have taken it in better part." But the lady, who was still very fair and not more than thirty-seven years old, was by no means fain to follow him, nor agree with him in this. Nor yet was she willing to play the madwoman for his sake, as we read did Evadne, daughter of Mars and Thebe and wife of Capaneus,[4] the which did love her husband so ardently that, he having died, so soon as ever his body was cast on the fire, she threw herself thereon all alive as she was, and was burned and consumed along with him, in her great constancy and strength of purpose, and so did accompany him in his death.

Alcestis[5] did far better yet, for having learned by an oracle that her husband Admetus, King of Thessaly, was to die presently, unless his life were redeemed by the death of some other of his friends, she did straightway devote herself to a sudden death, and so saved her husband alive.

Nowadays are no women of this kindly sort left, who are fain to go of their own pleasure into the grave before their husbands, and not survive them. No! such are no more to be found; the dams that bare them are dead, as say the horse-dealers of Paris of horses, when no more good ones are to be got.

And this is why I did account the husband, whose case I but now adduced, ill-advised to make such proposals to his wife and odious so to invite her to death, as though it had been some merry feast to invite her to. It was an arrant piece of jealousy that did make him so speak, and the despite he did feel within himself, he would presently experience yonder in the lower world, when he should see his wife, whom he had so excellently trained, in the arms of some lover of hers or some new husband.

What a strange sort of jealousy was this her husband must have been seized with for the nonce, and strange how he would keep telling her again and again how if he should recover, he would no more suffer at her hands what he had suffered aforetime! Yet, so long as he was alive and well, he had never been attacked by the like feelings, but ever let her do at her own good pleasure.

The gallant Tancred[6] did quite otherwise, the same who in old days did so signalise his valour in the Holy War. Being at the point of death, and his wife beside him making moan, together with the Count of Tripoly, he did beg the twain when that he was dead, to wed one another, and charged his wife to obey him therein,—the which they afterward did.

Mayhap he had observed some loving dalliance betwixt them during his lifetime. For she may well have been as very a harlot as her mother, the Countess of Anjou, who after the Comte de Bretagne had had her long while, went unto Philip,[7] the King of France, who did treat her the same fashion, and had of her a bastard daughter called Cicile, whom after he did give in marriage to this same valorous Tancred, who by reason of his noble exploits did of a surety little deserve to be cuckold.

An Albanian, having been condemned in Southern lands to be hung for some offence, being in the service of the King of France, when he was to be led out to his punishment, did ask to see his wife, who was a very fair and lovable woman, and bid her farewell. Then while he was saying his farewell and in the act of kissing her, lo! he did bite her nose right off and tear it clean out of her pretty face. And the officers thereupon questioning him why he had done this horrible thing to his wife, he replied he had done it out of sheer jealousy, "seeing she is very fair, for the which after my death I wot well she will straightway be sought after and given up to some other of my comrades, for I know her to be exceeding lecherous and one to forget me without more ado. I am fain therefore she bear me in memory after my death, and weep and be sorry. If she is not so for my death's sake, at least will she be sore grieved at being disfigured, and none of my comrades will have the pleasure of her I have had." Verily an appalling instance of a jealous husband!

I have heard speak of others who, feeling themselves old, failing, wounded, worn out and near to death, have out of sheer despite and jealousy privily cut short their mates' days, even when they have been fair and beauteous women.

Now as to such strange humours on the part of these cruel and tyrannic husbands which do thus put their wives to death, I have heard the question disputed,—to wit, whether it is permitted women, when they do perceive or suspect the cruelty and murder their husbands are fain to practise against them, to gain the first hand and anticipate their aggressors and so save their own lives, making the others play the part first and sending these on in front to make ready house and home in the other world.

I have heard it maintained the answer should be yes,—that they may do so, not certainly according to God's law, for thereby is all murder forbid, as I have said, but by the world's way of thinking, well enough. This opinion men base on the saying,—better 'tis to be beforehand than behind. For no doubt everyone is bound to take heed for his own life; and seeing God hath given it us, we must guard it well till he shall call us away at our death. Otherwise, knowing their death to be planned, to go headfirst into the same, and not to escape from it when they can, is to kill their own selves,—a crime which God doth very greatly abhor. Wherefore 'tis ever the best plan to send them on ahead as envoys, and parry their assault, as did Blanche d'Auverbruckt to her husband, the Sieur de Flavy, Captain of Compiègne and Governor thereof, the same who did betray the maid of Orleans, and was cause of her death and undoing. Now this lady Blanche, learning that her husband did plot to have her drowned, got beforehand with him, and by aid of his barber did smother and strangle him, for which deed our King Charles VII.[8] gave her instantly his pardon; though for the obtaining of this 'tis like the husband's treason went for much,—more indeed than any other reason. These facts are to be found in the Chronicles of France, and particularly in those of Guyenne.

The same was done by a certain Madame de la Borne, in the reign of Francis I.[9] This lady did accuse and inform against her husband for sundry follies committed and crimes, it may be monstrous crimes, he had done against her and other women. She had him thrown into prison, pleaded against him and finally got his head cut off. I have heard my grandmother tell the tale, who used to say she was of good family and a very handsome woman. Well! she at any rate did get well beforehand!

Queen Jeanne of Naples,[10] the First of that name, did the like toward the Infanta of Majorca, her third husband, whose head she did cause to be cut off for the reason I have named in the Discourse dealing with him. But it may well be she did also fear him, and was fain to be rid of him the first. Herein was she much in the right, and all women in like case, to act thus when they are suspicious of their gallants' purpose.

I have heard speak of many ladies that have bravely escaped in this fashion. Nay! I have known one, who having been found by her husband with her lover, he said never a word to one or the other, but departed in fierce anger, and left her there in the chamber with her lover, sore amazed and in much despair and doubt. Still the lady had spirit enough to declare, "He has done naught nor said naught to me this time; but I am sore afraid he doth bear rancour and secret spite. Now if I were only sure he was minded to do me to death, I would take thought how to make him feel death the first." Fortune was so kind to her after some while that the husband did die of himself; And hereof was she right glad, for never after his discovery had he made her good cheer, no matter what attention and consideration she showed him.

Yet another question is there in dispute as concerning these same madmen, these furious husbands and perilous cuckolds, to wit on which of the two they set and work their vengeance, whether on their wives, or their wives' lovers.

Some there be which have declared, "on the woman only," basing their doctrine on the Italian proverb morta la bastia, morta la rabbia o vereno—"when the beast is dead, the madness, or venom, is dead." For they think, so it would seem, to be quite cured of their hurt when they have once killed her who caused the pain, herein doing neither more nor less than they who have been bit or stung by a scorpion. The most sovran remedy these have is to take the creature, kill and crush it flat, and put it on the bite or wound it hath made. The same are ready to say, and do commonly say, 'tis the women who are the more deserving of punishment. I here refer to great ladies and of high rank, and not to humble, common and of low degree. For suchlike it is, by their lovely charms, their confidences, their orders given and soft words spoken, who do provoke the first skirmishes and bring on the battle, whereas the men do but follow their lead. But such as do call for war and begin it, are more deserving of blame than such as only fight in self-defence. For oftentimes men adventure themselves in the like dangerous places and on such high emprize, only when challenged by the ladies, who do signify in divers fashions their predilection. Just as we see in a great, good, wellguarded frontier town, it is exceeding difficult to attack the same unawares or surprise it, unless there be some secret undertaking among some of the inhabitants, and some that do encourage the assailants to the attempt and entice them on and give them a hand of succour.

Now, forasmuch as women are something more fragile than men, they must be forgiven, and it should be remembered how that, when once they have begun to love and set love in their hearts, they will achieve it at what cost soever, not content,—not all of them that is,—to brood over it within, and little by little waste away, and grow dried up and sickly, and spoil their beauty therefor,—which is the reason they do long to be cured of it and get pleasure therefrom, and not die in ferret's fashion, as the saying is.[11]

Of a surety I have known not a few fair ladies of this humour, who have been foremost to make love to the other sex, even sooner than the men, and for divers accounts,—some for that they see them handsome, brave, valiant and lovable; others to cozen them out of a sum of hard cash; others to get of them pearls and precious stones, and dresses of cloth of gold and of silver. And I have seen them take as great pains to get these things as a merchant to sell his commodities, and indeed they say the woman who takes presents, sells herself. Some again, to win Court favour; others to win the like with men of the law. Thus several fair dames I have known, who though having no right on their side, yet did get it over to them by means of their fleshly charms and bodily beauty. Yet others again, only to live delicately by the giving of their body.

Many women have I seen so enamoured of their lovers, that they would, so to speak, chase them and run amain after them, causing the world to cast scorn at them therefor.

I once knew a very fair lady so enamoured of a Lord of the great world, that whereas commonly lovers do wear the colours of their ladies, this one on the contrary would be wearing those of her gallant. I could quite well name the colours, but that would be telling over much.

I knew yet another, whose husband, having affronted her lover at a tourney which was held at Court, the while he was in the dancing-hall and was celebrating his triumph, she did out of despite dress herself in man's clothes and went to meet her lover and offer him her favours in masquerade,—for so enamoured of him was she, as that she was like to die thereof.

I knew an honourable gentleman, and one of the least spoken against at Court, who did one day manifest desire to be lover to a very fair and honourable lady, if ever there was one; but whereas she made many advances on her side, he on his stood on guard for many reasons and accounts. But the said lady, having set her love on him, and having cast the die this way at whatsoever hazard, as she did herself declare, did never cease to entice him to her by the fairest words of love that ever she could speak, saying amongst other things: "Nay! but suffer at any rate that I love you, if you will not love me; and look not to my deserts, but rather to the love and passion I do bear you,"—though in actual truth she did outbalance the gentleman on the score of perfections. In this case what could the gentleman have done but love her, as she was very fain to love him, and serve her; then ask the salary and reward of his service. This he had in due course, as is but reasonable that whoever doth a favour be paid therefor.

I could allege an infinite number of such ladies, which do seek toward lovers rather than are sought. And I will tell you why they have more blame than their lovers. Once they have assailed their man, they do never leave off till they gain their end and entice him by their alluring looks, their charms, the pretty made-up graces they do study to display in an hundred thousand fashions, by the subtle bepainting of their face, if it be not beautiful, their fine head-dresses, the rich and rare fashions of wearing their hair, so aptly suited to their beauty, their magnificent, stately costumes, and above all by their dainty and half-wanton words, as well as by their pretty, frolic gestures and familiarities, and lastly by gifts and presents. So this is how men are taken: and being once taken, needs must they take advantage of their captors. Wherefore 'tis maintained their husbands are fairly bound to wreak their vengeance on them.

Others hold the husband should take his satisfaction of the men, when that he can, just as one would of such as lay siege to a town. For they it is are the first to sound the challenge and call on the place to surrender, the first to make reconnaissances and approaches, the first to throw up entrenchments of gabions and raise bastions and dig trenches, the first to plant batteries and advance to the assault, and the first to open negotiations; and even so is it, they allege, with lovers. For like doughty, valiant and determined soldiers they do assault the fortress of ladies' chastity, till these, after all fashions of assault and modes of importunity have been duly observed, are constrained to make signal of capitulation and receive their pleasant foes within their fortifications. Wherein methinks they are not so blameworthy as they wauld fain make out; for indeed to be rid of an importunate beggar is very difficult without leaving somewhat of one's own behind. So have I seen many who by their long service and much perseverance have at length had their will of their mistresses, who at the first would not, so to say, have given them their cul a baiser, constraining them, or at any rate some of them, to this degree that out of pure pity, and tear in eye, they did give them their way. Just as at Paris a man doth very often give an alms to the beggars about an inn door more by reason of their importunity than from devotion or the love of God. The same is the case with many women, who yield rather for being over-importuned than because they are really in love—as also with great and powerful wooers, men whom they do fear and dare not refuse because of their high authority, dreading to do them a displeasure and thereafter to receive scandal and annoyance of them or a deliberate affront or great hurt and sore disparagement to their honour. For verily have I seen great mischiefs happen in suchlike conjunctions.

This is why those evil-minded husbands, which take such delight in blood and murder and evil entreatment of their wives, should not be so hasty, but ought first to make a secret inquiry into all matters, albeit such knowledge may well be grievous to them and very like to make them scratch their head for its sore itching thereat, and this even though some, wretches that they are, do give their wives all the occasion in the world to go astray.

Thus I once knew a great Prince of a foreign country, who had married a very fair and honourable lady. Yet did he very often leave her to go with another woman, which was supposed to be a famous courtesan, though others thought she was a lady of honour whom he had debauched. But not satisfied with this, when he had her to sleep with him, it was in a low-roofed chamber underneath that of his wife and underneath her bed. Then when he was fain to embrace his mistress, he was not content with the wrong he was doing his lady already, but in derision and mockery would with a half-pike knock two or three blows on the floor and shout up to his wife: "A health to you, wife mine!" This scorn and insult was repeated several days, and did so anger his wife that out of despair and desire of vengeance she did accost a very honourable gentleman one day and said to him privily: "Sir! I am fain you should have your pleasure of me; otherwise do I know of means whereby to undo you." The other, right glad of so fine an adventure, did in no wise refuse her. Wherefore, so soon as her husband had his fair leman in his arms, and she likewise her fond lover, and he would cry, "A health!" to her, then would she answer him in the same coin, crying, "And I drink to you!" or else, "I pledge you back, good Sir!"

These toasts and challenges and replies, so made and arranged as to suit with the acts of each, continued some longish while, till at length the Prince, a wily and suspicious man, did suspect something. So setting a watch, he did discover how his wife was gaily cuckolding him all the while, and making good cheer and drinking toasts just as well as he was, by way of retaliation and revenge. Then having made sure it was verily so, he did quick alter and transform his comedy into a tragedy; and having challenged her for the last time with his toast, and she having rendered him back his answer and as good as he gave, he did instantly mount upstairs, and forcing and breaking down the door, rushes in and reproaches her for her ill-doing. But she doth make answer on her side in this wise, "I know well I am a dead woman. So kill me bodily; I am not afraid of death, and do welcome it gladly, now I am avenged on you, seeing I have made you cuckold. For you did give me great occasion thereto, without which I had never gone astray. I had vowed all fidelity to you, and never should I have broken my troth for all the temptations in the whole world. Nay! you were no wise worthy of so honest a wife as I. So kill me straightway; but if there is any pity in your hand, pardon, I beseech you, this poor gentleman, who of himself is no whit to blame, for I did invite him and urge him to help me to my vengeance." The Prince, over cruel altogether, doth ruthlessly kill the twain. But what else should this unhappy Princess have done in view of the indignities and insults of her husband, if not what, in despair of any other succour in all the world, she did? Some there be will excuse her, some accuse her; many arguments and good reasons may be alleged thereanent on either side.

In the Cent Nouvelles of the Queen of Navarre is an almost similar tale, and a very fine one to boot, of the Queen of Naples, who in like manner did revenge herself on the King her husband. Yet was the end thereof not so tragical.