The Wright's Chaste Wife

by Adam of Cobham
(English comic tale, fifteenth century)

[The text is lightly glossed; see the glossary in the Riverside Chaucer for words not glossed here.]







































































































































All-mighty god, maker of alle, 
Save you, my sovereins in towre and halle, 
And send you good grace! 
If ye wille a stounde blinne,
Of a story I wille beginne, 
And telle you alle the cas, 

Many ferlyes that I have herde,
Ye would have wonder how it ferde;
Listen, and ye shalle here;
Of a wright I wille you telle
That some time in this land gan dwelle, 
And lived by his mister.

Whether that he were in or oute, 
Of erthely man hadde he no doute,
To werke hous, harrow, nor plough,
Or other werkes, what so they were, 
Thus wrought he them farre and nere, 
And did them wele y-nough.

This wright would wedde no wife,
But in youth to lede his life 
In mirthe and othre melody 
Over alle where he gan wende, 
Alle they seyd "Welcome, frende, 
Sit downe, and do gladly." 

Til on a time he was willing, 
As time cometh of alle thing 
(So seyth the profesye),
A wife for to wedde and have 
That might his goodes kepe and save, 
And for to leve alle foly. 

Ther dwelled a widowe in that contre 
That hadde a doughter faire and fre; 
Of her word sprang wide, 
For she was bothe stabille and trewe, 
Meke of maners, and faire of hewe; 
So seyd men in that tide. 

The wright seide, "So God me save, 
Such a wife would I have 
To lye nightly by my side." 
He thought to speke with that may,
And rose erly on a daye 
And thider gan he to ride. 

The wright was welcome to the wife, 
And her salued alle so blive,
And so he did her doughter free: 
For the erand that he for came 
Tho he spake, that good yemane;
Than to him seyd she: 

The widow seyd, "By Heven King, 
I may give with her no thing, 
(And that forthinketh me)
Save a garlond I wille thee give, 
Ye shalle never see, while ye live, 
None such in this contree. 

Have here this garlond of roses riche, 
In alle this lond is none it liche,
For it wille ever be newe, 
Wete thou wele withouten fable,
Alle the while thy wife is stable 
The chaplet wolle hold hewe;

And if thy wife use putry
Or tolle any man to lye her by,
Than wolle it change hewe, 
And by the garlond thou may see, 
Fikille or fals if that she be,
Or elles if she be trewe." 

Of this chaplet him was fulle faine,
And of his wife, was not to laine;
He wedded her fulle sone, 
And ladde her home with solempnitee, 
And held her bridalle dayes three,
Whan they home come. 

This wright in his hert cast, 
If that he walked est or west 
As he was wonte to done, 
"My wife that is so bright of blee
Men wolle desire her fro me, 
And that hastly and sone;" 

But sone he him bithought 
That a chamber shuld be wrought 
Bothe of lime and stone, 
With walles strong as any steele, 
And dorres sotilly made and wele,
He oute framed it sone; 

The chamber he let make fast, 
With plaster of Paris that wille last, 
Such hous know I never none; 
Ther is king ne emperoure, 
And he were locken in that towre,
That coude gete oute of that wonne.

Now hath he done as he thought, 
And in the middes of the flore wrought 
A wonder strange gile,
A trapdoure rounde aboute
That no man might come in nor oute; 
It was made with a wile,

That who-so touched it any thing,
In to the pit he shuld fling 
Within a litille while. 
For his wife he made that place, 
That no man shuld beseke her of grace, 
Nor her to begile. 

By that time the lord of the towne 
Hadde ordeined timber redy bowne,
An halle to make of tree.
After the wright the lord let sende 
For that he shuld with him lende
Monthes two or three. 

The lord seyd, "Woult thou have thy wife? 
I wille send after her blive
That she may com to thee." 
The wright his garlond hadde take with him, 
That was bright and no thing dimme, 
It was faire on to see. 

The lord axed him as he satt, 
"Felowe, where haddest thou this hatte 
That is so faire and newe?" 
The wright answerd alle so blive,
And seyd, "Sir, I hadde it with my wife,
And that dare me nevere rewe; 

"Sir, by my garlond I may see 
Fikille or fals if that she be,
Or if that she be trewe; 
And if my wife love a paramoure, 
Than wille my garlond fade coloure, 
And change wille it the hewe." 

The lord thought "By Goddes might, 
That wille I wete this same night
Whether this tale be trewe." 
To the wrightes house anon he went, 
He fonde the wife ther-in presente 
That was so bright and shene.

Sone he hailed her trewly, 
And so did she the lord curteisly: 
She seyd, "Welcome ye be;" 
Thus seyd the wife of the hous, 
"Sir, how fareth my swete spouse 
That heweth uppon youre tree?"

"Certes, dame," he seyd, "wele,
And I am come, so have I hele,
To wete the wille of thee; 
My love is so uppon thee cast 
That me thinketh my hert wolle brest, 
It wolle none otherwise be. 

"Good dame, graunt me thy grace 
To play with thee in some privy place 
For gold and eke for fee." 
"Good sir, let be youre fare,
And of such wordes speke no mare
For his love that dyed on tree;

Hadde we ones begonne that glee,
My husbond by his garlond might see; 
For sorowe he would wexe woode."
"Certes, dame," he seyd, "Nay; 
Love me, I pray you, in that ye may: 
For Goddes love change thy mode.

Forty marke shalle be youre mede
Of silver and of gold so rede, 
And that shalle do thee good." 
"Sir, that deede shalle be done; 
Take me that mony here anone."
"I swere by the holy rood 

I thought when I cam hiddere
For to bring it alle to-giddere,
As I mot broke my heele."
Ther she toke forty marke 
Of silver and gold stiff and starke:
She toke it faire and welle. 

She seyd, "Into the chamber wille we, 
Ther no man shalle us see; 
No lenger wille we spare." 
Up the staire they gan hye:
The steppes were made so queintly 
That farther might he not fare. 

The lord stumbilled as he went in hast, 
He felle doune in to that chaste
Forty fote and somedele more.
The lord began to crye; 
The wife seyd to him in hye,
"Sir, what do ye there?" 

"Dame, I can not seye how 
That I am come hidder now 
To this hous that is so newe; 
I am so depe in this sure flore
That I ne can come oute at no dore; 
Good dame, on me thou rewe!" 

"Nay," she seyd, "so mot I thee,
Til mine husbond come and see, 
I shrewe him that it thought."
The lord arose and loked aboute 
If he might any where gete oute, 
But it holpe him right noght.

The walles were so thicke within, 
That he no where might oghte winne
But helpe to him were brought;
And ever the lord made eville chere, 
And seyd, "Dame, thou shalt by this dere."
She seyd that she ne rought.

She seyd "I recke nere
While I am here and thou art there, 
I shrewe her that thee doth drede."
The lord was sone oute of her thought, 
The wife went in to her lofte, 
She satte and did here dede.

Than it felle on that other daye
Of mete and drinke he gan her pray,
Thereof he hadde gret nede. 
He seyd, "Dame, for Seint Charite, 
With some mete thou comfort me." 
She seyd, "Nay, so God me spede, 

For I swere by swete Seint Johne, 
Mete ne drinke ne gettest thou none 
But thou wilt swinke or swete;
For I have both hempe and line,
And a betingstocke fulle fine,
And a swingille good and grete;

If thou wilt worke, tell me sone." 
"Dame, bring it forthe; it shalle be done; 
Fulle gladly would I ete." 
She toke the stocke in her honde, 
And in to the pit she it slang
With a grete hete. 

She brought the line and hempe on her backe, 
"Sir lord," she seyd, "have thou that, 
And lerne for to swete."
Ther she toke him a bonde
For to occupy his honde, 
And bade him fast on to bete.

He leyd it downe on the stone, 
And leyd on strokes welle good wone,
And spared not on to leine.
Whan that he hadde wrought a thrave,
Mete and drinke he gan to crave, 
And would have hadde it faine.

"That I hadde somewhat for to ete 
Now after my gret swete; 
Me thinketh it were right, 
For I have laboured night and daye 
Thee for to plese, dame, I saye, 
And therto put my might." 

The wife seyd "So mot I have hele,
And if thy worke be wrought wele 
Thou shalt have to dine."
Mete and drinke she him bare, 
With a thrafe of flex mare
Of fulle long bounden line.

So faire the wife the lord gan praye 
That he shuld be werking aye, 
And nought that he shuld blinne;
The lord was faine to werke tho,
But his men knewe not of his woo 
Nor of ther lordes pine.

The stuard to the wright gan saye,
"Sawe thou oughte of my lord to-daye,
Whither that he is wente?" 
The wright answerde and seyd "Naye; 
I sawe him not sith yesterdaye; 
I trowe that he be shent."

The stuard stode the wright by, 
And of his garlond hadde ferly
What that it be-mente.
The stuard seyd, "So God me save, 
Of thy garlond wonder I have, 
And who it hath thee sent." 

"Sir," he seyd, "by the same hatte 
I can knowe if my wife be badde 
To me by any other man; 
If my flowres outher fade or falle,
Then doth my wife me wrong with-alle, 
As many a woman can." 

The stuard thought "By Goddes might, 
That shalle I preve this same night 
Whether thou blis or banne,"
And into his chamber he gan gone,
And toke tresure fulle good wone,
And forth he spedde him than. 

But he ne stint at no stone 
Til he un-to the wrightes hous come 
That ilke same night. 
He met the wife amidde the gate, 
Aboute the necke he gan her take, 
And seyd "My dere wight,

Alle the good that is mine 
I wille thee give to be thine 
To lye by thee alle night." 
She seyd, "Sir, let be thy fare, 
My husbond wolle wete with-outen mare
And I him did that unright;

I would not he might it wete 
For alle the good that I might gete, 
So Jesus mot me spede;
For, and any man lay me by,
My husbond would it wete truly, 
It is withouten any drede."

The stuard seyd "For him that is wrought, 
There-of, dame, drede thee noght 
With me to do that dede; 
Have here of me twenty marke 
Of gold and silver stif and starke, 
This tresoure shalle be thy mede."

"Sir, and I graunt that to you, 
Let no man wete but we two now." 
He seyd, "Nay, withouten drede." 
The stuard thought, "Sikerly 
Women beth both queinte and slye." 
The mony he gan her bede;

He thought wele to have be spedde,
And of his erand he was onredde
Or he were fro hem y-gone.
Up the staires she him ledde 
Tille he saw the wrightes bedde: 
Of tresoure rought he none.

He went and stumbled at a stone, 
Into the cellare he felle sone 
Downe to the bare flore. 
The lord seyd "What deville art thou? 
And thou haddest falle on me now, 
Thou hadest hurt me fulle sore." 

The stuard stert and stared aboute 
If he might ower gete oute
At hole lesse or mare. 
The lord seyd, "Welcome, and sit be-time,
For thou shalt helpe to dight this line
For alle thy fers fare."

The stuard loked on the knight, 
He seyd, "Sir, for Goddes might, 
My lord, what do you here?" 
He seyd, "Felowe, with-outen oth, 
For o erand we come bothe,
The sothe wolle I not lete." 

Tho cam the wife them un-to, 
And seyd, "Sires, what do you two, 
Wille ye not lerne to swete?"
Than seyd the lord her un-to, 
"Dame, youre line is y-doo, 
Now would I faine ete: 

"And I have made it alle y-like, 
Fulle clere, and no thing thicke, 
Me thinketh it gret paine." 
The stuard seyd "With-outen doute, 
And ever I may winne oute, 
I will breke her braine." 

"Felowe, let be, and sey not so, 
For thou shalt worke or ever thou goo,
Thy wordes thou torne againe, 
Faine thou shalt be so to doo, 
And thy good wille put therto; 
As a man buxome and baine.

Thou shalt rubbe, rele, and spinne,
And thou wolt any mete winne,
That I give to God a gifte." 
The stuard seyd, "Then have I wonder; 
Rather would I dy for hunger 
With-oute houselle or shrifte."

The lord seyd, "So have I hele,
Thou wilt worke, if thou hunger welle, 
What worke that thee be brought." 
The lord sat and did his werke, 
The stuard drewe in to the derke, 
Gret sorowe was in his thought. 

The lord seyd, "Dame, here is youre line, 
Have it in Goddes blessing and mine, 
I hold it welle y-wrought." 
Mete and drinke she gave him in, 
"The stuard," she seyd, "wolle he not spinne, 
Wille he do right noght?" 

The lord seyd, "By swete Seint Johne, 
Of this mete shalle he have none 
That ye have me hidder brought." 
The lord ete and dranke fast, 
The stuard hungered at the last, 
For he gave him nought. 

The stuard sat alle in a stody, 
His lord hadde forgote curtesy: 
Tho seyd the stuard, "Give me some." 
The lord seyd, "Sorow have the morselle or sope
That shalle come in thy throte; 
Not so much as a crome!

But thou wilt helpe to dight this line, 
Much hunger it shalle be thine 
Though thou make much mone."
Up he rose, and went therto, 
"Better is me thus to doo 
While it must nedes be do." 

The stuard began fast to knocke, 
The wife threw him a swingeling stocke,
His mete therwith to win; 
She brought a swingille at the last,
"Good sires," she seyd, "swingille on fast; 
For no thing that ye blinne."

She gave him a stocke to sit uppon, 
And seyd "Sires, this werke must nedes be done, 
Alle that that is here in." 
The stuard toke up a sticke to saye,
"Sey, seye, swingille better if ye may,
Hit wille be the better to spinne." 

Were the lord never so gret, 
Yet was he faine to werke for his mete 
Though he were never so sadde; 
But the stuard that was so stowde,
Was faine to swingelle the scales oute,
Ther-of he was not glad. 

The lordes meine that were at home
Wist not where he was bicome, 
They were fulle sore adrad. 
The proctoure of the parishe chirche right
Came and loked on the wright, 
He loked as he were madde. 

Fast the proctoure gan him fraine,
"Where haddest thou this garlond gaine?
It is ever like newe." 
The wright gan say "Felowe, 
With my wife, if thou wilt knowe; 
That dare me not rewe;

For alle the while my wife trew is, 
My garlond wolle hold hewe y-wis, 
And never falle nor fade; 
And if my wife take a paramoure, 
Than wolle my garlond fade the flowre, 
That dare I ley mine hede."

The proctoure thought, "In good faye 
That shalle I wete this same daye 
Whether it may so be." 
To the wrightes hous he went, 
He grete the wife with faire entente, 
She seyd "Sir, welcome be ye." 

"A! dame, my love is on you fast 
Sith the time I sawe you last; 
I pray you it may so be 
That ye would graunt me of youre grace 
To play with you in some privy place, 
Or elles to deth mot me."

Fast the proctoure gan to pray, 
And ever to him she seyd "Naye, 
That wolle I not doo. 
Haddest thou done that dede with me, 
My spouse by his garlond might see, 
That shuld torne me to woe." 

The proctoure seyd, "By Heven King, 
If he sey to thee any thing 
He shalle have sorowe unsoughte; 
Twenty marke I wolle thee give, 
It wolle thee helpe welle to live, 
The mony here have I brought." 

Now hath she the tresure tane,
And up the staire be they gane,
(What helpeth it to lye?) 
The wife went the staire be-side, 
The proctoure went a litille too wide 
He felle downe by and by. 

Whan he in to the cellar felle, 
He wente to have sonke in to helle,
He was in hert fulle sory. 
The stuard loked on the wight, 
And seyd "Proctoure, for Goddes might, 
Come and sit us by." 

The proctoure began to stare, 
For he was he wist never whare, 
But wele he knewe the knight 
And the stuard that swingeled the line.
He seyd "Sires, for Goddes pine,
What do ye here this night?" 

The stuard seyd, "God give thee care, 
Thou camest to loke how we fare, 
Now helpe this line were dight." 
He stode stille in a gret thought, 
What to answer he wist noght: 
"By Mary fulle of might," 

The proctoure seyd, "what do ye in this inn
For to bete this wifes line? 
For Jesus love, fulle of might," 
The proctoure seyd right as he thought, 
"For me it shalle be eville wrought 
And I may see aright, 

For I lerned never in londe 
For to have a swingelle in hond 
By day nor be night." 
The stuard seyd, "As good as thou
We hold us that be here now, 
And let preve it be sight; 

Yet must us worke for oure mete, 
Or elles shalle we none gete, 
Mete nor drinke to oure honde." 
The lord seyd, "Why flite ye two?
I trowe ye wille werke or ye goo
If it be as I undirstond." 

Aboute he goes twyes or thryes;
They ete and drinke in such wise 
That they give him right noght. 
The proctoure seyd, "Thinke ye no shame, 
Y-heve me some mete (ye be to blame!) 
Of that the wife ye brought." 

The stuard seyd "Eville spede the soppe
If any morcelle come in thy throte
But thou with us hadest wrought."
The proctoure stode in a stody 
Whether he might worke hem by 
And so to torne his thought. 

To the lord he drewe nere, 
And to him seyd with mild chere, 
"That Mary mot thee spede." 
The proctoure began to knocke, 
The good wife rawte him a rocke,
For therto hadde she nede. 

She seyd "Whan I was maide at home, 
Other werke coude I do none 
My life ther-with to lede." 
She gave him in hande a rocke hinde,
And bade hem fast for to winde 
Or elles to let be his dede. 

"Yes, dame," he seyd, "so have I hele, 
I shalle it worke both faire and welle 
As ye have taughte me." 
He waved up a stricke of line,
And he span wele and fine 
By-fore the swingelle tree.

The lord seyd "thou spinnest too grete,
Therfor thou shalt have no mete; 
That thou shalt welle see." 
Thus they sat and wrought fast 
Til the weeke dayes were past; 
Then the wright, home came he, 

And as he cam by his hous side 
He herd noise that was not ride
Of persons two or thre; 
One of hem knocked line, 
A-nother swingeled good and fine 
By-fore the swingille tree, 

The thirde did rele and spinne,
Mete and drinke ther-with to winne, 
Gret nede ther-of hadde he. 
Thus the wright stode herkening; 
His wife was ware of his coming, 
And ageinst him went she.

"Dame," he seyd, "what is this dinne? 
I here gret noise here withinne; 
Telle me, so God thee spede." 
"Sir," she seyd, "workemen three 
Be come to helpe you and me, 
Ther-of we have gret nede." 

"Faine would I wete what they were." 
But when he sawe his lord there, 
His hert began to drede 
To see his lord in that place, 
He thought it was a strange cas, 
And seyd, "So God him spede, 

What do ye here, my lord and knight? 
Telle me now for Goddes might 
How cam this un-to?" 
The knight seyd "What is best rede? 
Mercy I aske for my misdede, 
My hert is wonder wo." 

"So is mine, verament,
To see you among this flax and hempe, 
Fulle sore it rueth me; 
To see you in such hevines, 
Fulle sore mine hert it doth oppresse, 
By God in trinitee." 

The wright bade his wife let him oute, 
"Nay, then sorowe come on my snoute 
If they passe hens to-daye 
Til that my lady come and see 
How they would have done with me, 
But now late me saye." 

Anon she sent after the lady bright
For to fet home her lord and knight,
Therto she seyd noght; 
She told her what they hadde ment, 
And of ther purpos and ther intente 
That they would have wrought. 

Glad was that lady of that tiding; 
When she wist her lord was living, 
Ther-of she was fulle faine: 
Whan she came un-to the staire aboven, 
She loked un-to the cellar downe, 
And seyd, "This is not to leine.

"Good sires, what doo you here?" 
"Dame, we by oure mete fulle dere,
With gret travaile and peine; 
I pray you helpe that we were oute, 
And I wille swere withouten doute 
Never to come here againe." 

The lady spake the wife un-tille, 
And seyd "Dame, if it be youre wille, 
What doo thes meiny here?"
The carpentares wife her answerd sikerly, 
"Alle they would have leine me by, 
Everich in ther manere. 

Gold and silver they me brought, 
And forsoke it, and would it noght, 
The riche giftes so clere. 
Willing they were to do me shame, 
I toke ther giftes with-outen blame, 
And ther they be alle three." 

The lady answerd her anon, 
"I have thinges to do at home 
Mo than two or three; 
I wist my lord never do right noght 
Of no thing that shuld be wrought, 
Such as falleth to me." 

The lady laughed and made good game 
Whan they came oute alle in-same 
From the swingille tree. 
The knight seyd "Felowes in fere, 
I am glad that we be here, 
By Goddes dere pitee. 

Dame, and ye hadde bene with us, 
Ye would have wrought, by swete Jesus, 
As welle as did we." 
And when they cam up aboven 
They turned aboute and loked downe, 
The lord seyd, "So God save me, 

"Yet hadde I never such a fitte 
As I have hadde in that lowe pitte; 
So Mary so mot me spede."
The knight and this lady bright, 
How they would home that night, 
For no thing they would abide; 

And so they went home; 
This seyd Adam of Cobsam. 
By the weye as they rode 
Through a wode in ther playeng, 
For to here the fowles sing 
They hoved stille and bode.

The stuard swore by Goddes ore,
And so did the proctoure much more, 
That never in ther life 
Would they no more come in that wonne
Whan they were ones thens come, 
This forty yere and five. 

Of the tresure that they brought 
The lady would give hem right noght, 
But gave it to the wrightes wife. 
Thus the wrightes garlond was faire of hewe, 
And his wife bothe good and trewe: 
There-of was he fulle blithe. 

I take witnes at gret and smalle, 
Thus trewe bene good women alle 
That now been on live, 
So come thriste on ther heddes
Whan they mombille on ther bedes
Ther pater nosters rive.

Here is written a geste of the wright 
That hadde a garlond welle y-dight, 
The coloure wille never fade. 
Now God that is Heven King 
Graunt us alle his dere blessing 
Oure hertes for to glade; 

And alle tho that doo her husbondes right, 
Pray we to Jesu fulle of might, 
That faire mot hem bifalle, 
And that they may come to heven blis, 
For thy dere moderes love ther-of not to mis, 
Alle good wives alle. 

Now alle tho that this tretis hath hard, 
Jesu graunt hem for her reward 
As trew lovers to be 
As was the wright un-to his wife 
And she to him during her life. 
Amen, for charite. 

Here endeth the wrightes processe trewe 
With his garlond faire of hewe 
That never did fade the coloure. 
It was made by the avise 
Of his wives moder witty and wise 
Of flowres most of honoure, 

Of roses white that wille not fade,
Which flowre alle Englond doth glade 
With trewloves medeled in sight;
Un-to the which flowre y-wis 
The love of God and of the comenis
Subdued bene of right. 


be silent 

fared, went 


make, build 





saluted very quickly 

Tho = then. . . yeoman 

makes me rue 



keep its color 




wedding feast 

color, appearance 


if. . . locked 
dwelling, house 

trap door 


in any way 


stay, remain 


with = by means of 



shining (beautiful) 



manner of conduct 
no more 
i.e., the cross 



mood, mind 



enjoy my health, salvation 


they hastened 

chest, chamber 


under-floor, cellar 

as I may prosper 




buy (pay for) 
reckoned, cared 




next day 

work or sweat 
clump (of flax) for beating 
swingle staff (for scraping beaten flax) 

slung, threw 

gave. . . bundle 


good store (i.e., many) 
lay on 


as I may have salvataion 

have (wherewith) 


eager. . . then 



harmed, in trouble 



bless or curse 
good store (i.e., much) 


And = if. . . injustice 

As Jesus may help me 
and = if 




helped to succeed 


ower = o-where, anywhere 

prepare this flax 
fierce manner 

one (the same) 


or = ere 

obedient and ready (to work) 

And = if 

blessing or forgiveness 


morsel. . . piece of bread 



flax for scraping 

instrument for scraping 


essay, try 
essay, try 

placed in such a situtaion 
scrape out bits of bark 

household, servants 


gained, gotten 

cause me to rue 

lay, wager 

I must go 


weened, supposed 

scraped the flax 

lodging place 

good, well born 

or = ere 

twice or thrice 

bit of bread 
unless. . . worked 

gave him. . . distaff 

gentle distaf 

strike of flax 

board for dressing flax 


small, slight 


toward (to meet) 


lady (i.e., the lord's wife) 


buy, earn 

this company 


stopped. . . waited 



May thirst come 

White Roses (of York) 



The Wright's Chaste Wife, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, EETS original series 12, London, 1865. (and reprints) [Widener 11472.12.1]. (Ed. from MS Lambeth 306, leaves 178-87; the MS is dated 1462, according to Furnivall.)