tales of Jereslaus’s wife & Jonathas in Hoccleve’s subversive Series

Thomas Hoccleve suffered elite women’s displeasure after his Letter of Cupid was published in London in 1402. Hoccleve, a married man who wrote hymns to the Virgin Mary, understood that social power centered on women. But as a man of Christian faith and a sophisticated poet, he refused to produce for women merely unctuous flattery or gyno-idolatry. He turned to medieval Latin literature with its rich, subtle treatments of gender and men’s sexed protest. In producing his intricate, subversive Series about 1420, Hoccleve wove together exempla of Jereslaus’s wife and Jonathas from the medieval Latin Deeds of the Romans {Gesta Romanorum}. The exempla of Jereslaus’s wife and Jonathas, written more than a century earlier, depict saintly and wicked female behavior within a critical perspective on social justice.

Hoccleve in writing his Series had the benefit of a friend’s advice. The friend wrongly accused Hoccleve of claiming that women do wrong. Even worse, Hoccleve allegedly blamed women for doing wrong. The friend advised Hoccleve:

Write something now in honor and praise
of women, so you might make amends
in some part for your offense and misbehavior.
You are fully out of their affection.
It is now in your choice
whether you desire to again purchase their love
or stand as you do out of love and grace.

Beware, I advise, choose the better part.
Trust well this: women are fierce and wise.
To please them requires great craft and skill.
Where no fire is made, may no smoke arise.
But you have often, if you well consider yourself,
made smokey brands, and for all that guilt,
yet may you stand in grace, if that you seek.

By obedient heart and by submission
to their graces, offering yourself as culpable,
you may have their pardon and forgiveness.
And do unto them proper effort to please.
You are in no way able to make a fight with them.
Humble your spirit, be not firm of heart.
Better that than they make you suffer.

The Wife of Bath I take for an authority
that women have no joy or delight
when men should upon them attribute any vice.
I know well so, or something like that, she says.
By written words, Thomas, offer yourself.
Just as you by scripture have offended them,
rightly then let it be by writing you amend.

{ Sumwhat now wryte in honour & preysynge
Of hem / so maist thow do correccioun
Sumdel of thyn offense and mis-berynge.
Thow art cleene out of hir affeccioun;
Now syn it is in thyn eleccioun
Whethir thee list / hir loue ageyn purchace,
Or stonde as thow doost / out of loue & grace /

Bewar, rede I / cheese the bettre part.
Truste wel this / wommen been fell and wyse;
Hem for to plese / lyth greet craft & art.
Wher no fyr maad is / may no smoke aryse;
But thow haast ofte / if thow thee wel auyso,
Maad smoky brondes / and for al þat gilt,
yit maist thow stonde in grace / if þat thow wilt.

By buxum herte & by submission
To hir graces / yildinge thee coupable /
Thow pardon maist haue, & remission
And do vn-to hem plesance greable.
To make partie / art thow nothyng able;
Humble thy goost / be nat sturdy of herte;
Bettre than thow art / han they maad to smerte.

The wyf of Bathe, take I for auctrice
þat wommen han no ioie ne deyntee
þat men sholde vp-on hem putte any vice;
I woot wel so / or lyk to þat, seith shee.
By wordes writen / Thomas, yilde thee;
Euene as thow by scripture hem haast offendid,
Right so / let it be by wrytynge amendid. }[1]

Just as they have in many other times and places, elite women controlled the literary field in early fifteenth-century London.[2] Nonetheless, the friend urged Hoccleve not to place himself under women’s “rule and governance” and not to be concerned if a woman bashed him in the head. Who could follow such advice? Hoccleve himself seemed to be afraid of his wife. The friend’s advice mainly followed the hoary wisdom “happy wife, happy life”:

Now Thomas, if you wish to live in ease,
seek after women’s benevolence.
Although it be difficult, it’s good to please them,
for it’s hard to rein in their taking offense.
Whatever they say, take it all with patience.
You’re not better than your fathers who came before
have been, Thomas. Be very well wary therefore.

{ Now Thomas / if thee list to lyue in ese,
Prolle aftir wommennes beneuolence.
Thogh it be dangerous / good is hem plese,
ffor hard is it / to renne in hir offense.
What so they seyn / take al in pacience.
Bettre art thow nat / than thy fadres before,
Thomas, han been / be right wel waar therfore. }

With his friend’s help, Hoccleve came to understand gender reality and what he needed to do:

When he was gone, I in my heart dreaded
to stand out of women’s benevolence.
And to fulfill that, which he advised me,
I resolved to endure my pain and work
to win their love by obedience.
Although my words I cannot well portray,
see, hear, the form of how I them obey.

All my ladies, as wisely god blessed me,
why can I not know why you’ve been peeved at me?
My guilt never yet came to its ripeness,
although you deem and trust me to be your foe.
But I am your friend, or may the crow bite me!
I am other to you than you think.
By my writing has it been and shall be seen.

But nevertheless, I, lowly me, submit
to your virtues, as far as they have a place
in you. For me, a wretch, it may well be appropriate
to ask pardon, though I have not trespassed.
Better it is for me, with piteous demeanor and face
and meek spirit, to do so, than unimpeded war
you wage on me, and put me at war.

Also, a tale which in the Roman deeds I
now recently saw, in honor and pleasing
of you, my ladies — as I much need,
or I’ll go my way for fear into France,
though I’m not fit to ride or prance —
that I will translate and that shall purge, I hope,
my guilt as clean as handkerchiefs do soap.

{ Whan he was goon / I in myn herte dredde
Stonde out of wommennes beneuolence;
And to fulfille þat / þat he me redde,
I shoop me do my peyne and diligence
To wynne hir loue by obedience.
Thogh I my wordes can nat wel portreye /
Lo, heer the fourme / how I hem obeye.

My ladyes all / as wisly god me blesse,
Why þat yee meeued been / can I nat knowe;
My gilt cam neuere yit to the ripnesse,
Al-thogh yee for your fo / me deeme & trowe;
But I your freend be / byte me the crowe!
I am al othir to yow / than yee weene;
By my wrytynge / hath it, & shal be, seene.

But nathelees / I lowly me submitte
To your bontees / as fer as they han place
In yow / vn-to me, wrecche, it may wel sitte
To axe pardoun / thogh I nat trespace;
Leuer is me / with pitous cheere & face,
And meek spirit, do so / than open werre
yee make me / & me putte atte werre.

A tale eek / which I in the Romayn deedis
Now late sy / in honur & plesance
Of yow, my ladyes / — as I moot needis.
Or take my way / for fere in-to ffrance, —
Thogh I nat shapen be / to prike or prance, —
Wole I translate / and þat shal pourge, I hope.
My gilt / as cleene / as keuerchiefs dooth sope. }

Hoccleve didn’t dedicate his Series to Duke Humphrey, a patron to whom to Hoccleve promised a book. Hoccleve prudently dedicated his book to Joan Beaufort Neville, Duchess of Westmorland.

To honor and praise women, Hoccleve translated from the medieval Latin Gesta Romanorum what he entitled, “A tale of a certain Roman Empress {fabula de quadam Imperatrice Romana}.” When her husband the Roman Emperor Jereslaus went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, this Empress ruled alone. She was beautiful and virtuous in a Christian way, quite unlike Empress Theodora. Men, including the Emperor’s brother, eagerly sought to have sex with her. Acting like Potiphar’s wife, these men treated the Empress wrongly when she rebuffed them. With betrayal, false accusation, and treachery, the men deposed the Empress and caused her to enter a convent as an unknown, impoverished nun.[3] The unrecognized Empress became a holy nun with extraordinary powers of healing.

When the Emperor Jereslaus returned from the Holy Land, he was told that the Empress had been abducted and killed. Jereslaus’s brother had subsequently been afflicted with leprosy. All the other men who wronged the Empress were also mortally ill. When Jereslaus heard of the nun with extraordinary powers of healing, he took his brother to her. All the other sick men who had wronged the Empress went too. The nun-Empress refused to heal them until they confessed fully their sins. They each confessed to having wronged the Empress. She then cured them, showing great mercy to men and rejecting the gender structure of penal punishment. After that exemplary act of mercy, she uncovered her face:

When the Emperor saw her, he immediately recognized her. He ran to her and immediately kissed her and wept for joy, saying: “Blessed be God. Now I have found what I long desired.” And he brought her to their palace with great jubilation, and in peace she thus finished out her life.

{ Imperator, cum eam uidisset, noticiam statim eius habebat. Ad eam cucurrit, statimque amplexatus est eam et pre gaudio flueit, dicens: “Benedictus Deus. Iam inueni quod diu desideraui.” Eamque ad palacium cum magno iubilo duxit et sic in pace uitam finiuit. }

The Empress was a saintly woman.[4] She loved men and was loved by men. But just as not all men act like the wicked men who wronged the Empress, not all women act like the Empress with love and mercy toward men. Hoccleve observed:

O, in this land is many a wretch, I think,
that though his wife had longer been away from him
with no reason other than spitefulness,
he would have wanted her to be away even longer.
Finding of her would be to him only woe,
for he would think that such a finding
would turn him to loss and harming.

{ O / many a wrecche is in this lond, y weene /
þat thogh his wyf lengere had been him fro,
No kus / but if it had been of the spleene,
Shee sholde han had / & forthermore also,
ffyndynge of hire / had been to him but wo,
ffor him wolde han thoght þat swich a fyndynge,
To los sholde han him torned, and harmynge. }

Recognizing diversity among women, Hoccleve thus lined up husbands’ support for female separatism and the Amazon fantasy. Moreover, with this realistic interpolation, Hoccleve separated the story of Jereslaus’s wife from its moralization. The Empress is not just the soul of any human being, as in the moralization. She is represented as a distinctive, realistic possibility for women.

Hoccleve dared to show another possibility for women. His friend asked him for a story to warn his fifteen-year old son about harm from loving a woman prostitute. Hoccleve recognized this to be a dangerous writing assignment:

Friend, it would be difficult for me to say no to you,
but I suppose it may be none other,
or else women will liken me to Maggie, the good cow,
and thus say, “O, behold and see
that deceitful man. O, yonder look, there he goes
that first gave honey and now gives gall.
He is a foe in his heart to all women.

Until he utters words about wicked women,
it seems that he is fasting from words. All day long
falsehoods swarm thick out of his mouth.
He will offer no good word about women.
And if he doesn’t refuse to speak well of women,
he doesn’t move as he tries to speak or write.
O, the lewd simpleton, his wit is worth no more than straw!”

{ “ffreend, looth me were nay seye vn-to yow,
But y suppose / it may noon othir be,
Lest wommen vn-to Magge, the good kow,
Me likne / and thus seye / ‘o, beholde & see
The double man / o, yondir, lo, gooth he
That hony first yaf / and now yeueth galle:
He fo in herte is / vn-to wommen alle;

Til he of wommen oute wordes wikke,
He fastynge is / him seemeth; al the day,
Out of his mowth / lesynges swarmen thikke;
On wommen / no good word / affoorthe he may;
And if he wel speke / or wryte / is no nay,
He nat meueth / as he spekith or writ:
O lewde dotepol / straw for his wit!'” }

The friend pointed out that blaming wicked women is no shame to good women. Only women who had done wrong would attack a man for criticizing such women. Moreover, rebuking persons who do wrong is right. In response to such reasonable arguments, Hoccleve agreed to translate from the medieval Latin Gesta Romanorum a tale that he prudently titled, “A tale of a certain wicked woman {Fabula de quadam muliere mala}.”

In this tale, the Roman Emperor Godfrey on his deathbed gave his son Jonathas three precious objects: a ring, a necklace, and a carpet. The ring made the wearer beloved of everyone. Anyone would give the ring’s wearer whatever he requested. The necklace was such that the wearer would obtain directly whatever he desired. The carpet had the magical property that if one sat one it and thought to go to a place, the carpet would instantly convey those sitting on it there. Jonathas’s mother, the Empress, held these precious objects for him. Before sending him off to university, she gave him the ring and advised him:

Son, acquire knowledge and beware of women so that you don’t by bad fortune lose the ring.

{ Fili, scienciam acquire et a muliere caveas, ne forte annulum perdas. }[5]

Mothers typically love their children and offer them caring advice. Jonathas would have been wise to have adhered to his mother’s wisdom.

Fortunatus receiving the purse of plenty (bottomless purse) from Lady Fortune

At university, Jonathas progressed well as a student. With the ring he received from others whatever material goods he wanted. He was able to live in luxury, as well as provide friends with lavish feasts. One day Jonathas saw a beautiful woman walking on the street near the university. He fell ardently in love with her. In his romantic simplicity, he naively propositioned her:

He immediately spoke with her about his extreme love for her. She acquiesced to his love. He slept with her and kept her with him in his room.

{ Cum ea statim de amore loquebatur inordinato. Que concessit et cum ea dormivit et ipsum secum retinuit. }[6]

The former street-walker’s name was Felicia. That’s Latin for “auspicious things.” As students of rhetoric should learn, words can be deceptive.

Jonathan’s live-in girlfriend Felicia was amazed that he always seemed to have goods, yet never had any money. That situation made no sense to her:

One night it happened that they were lying in bed together and she said: “My respected lord, you have had my virginity and as long as I live I will completely serve your desire. I beg you to grant me one small petition. Tell me, please, how you acquire so many goods and put on various feasts, and yet I see that you have no money nor treasure.”

{ Accidit una nocte quod simul in lecto iacuerunt, aitque illa: “Domine mi reverende, virginitatem meam habuistis et totaliter, quamdiu vixero, ad vestram voluntatem ero. Rogo vos ut unam parvam peticionem michi concedatis. Dicite michi, si placet, quomode tot bona adquiritis et diversa convivia facitis et nullum denarium nec thesaurum vidi vos habere.” }

Jonathas told Felicia about his ring. She in turn warned him of the danger of losing it and told him to give it to her for safe-keeping. So he did. But then others’ love for him waned. They no longer gave to him as before. One night, Jonathas asked Felicia to give him back his ring:

She, however, got up and invented a lie in the bedroom. She said with a worthy cry: “Alas for me, alas! My jewelry box has been broken open and the ring has been stolen!” Hearing this, Jonathas was all sick to his stomach and said: “Perish the day in which I saw you!” She began to weep and express sorrow. Jonathas believed her and said: “Don’t weep. God will still help me.”

{ Ipsa vero surrexit et mendacium infra cameram finxit, dixitque cum clamore valido: “Heu michi, heu! Cista mea est gracta et anulus asportatus est!” Ionathas, hec audiens, commota sunt omnia viscera eius et ait: “Peria dies in qua vidi te!” Ipsa incepit flere et dolorem ostendere. Ionathas credebat ei et ait: “Noli flere. Deus adhuc adiuvabit me.” }

Women’s tears often gain them forgiveness for their crimes. That contributes to vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men. Typically deprived of justice and mercy in this world, men’s best hope is in God.

Since his mother is as close to God as a man has here on earth, Jonathas went home to his mother. Like most mothers would be, Jonathas’s mother was concerned:

When she saw him, the Empress said: “O my son, why have you come back from school so soon?” He said to her: “O mother, I have lost my ring because I gave it to my girlfriend.” And she said: “O son, I have often said to you that you should beware in a relationship with a woman. Now I’m giving you a necklace and henceforth beware not to lose it.”

{ Imperatrix, cum hec vidisset, ait: “O fili mi, quare tam cito de studio venisti?” Ait ille: “O mater, anulum meum perdidi eo quod amasie mee tradidi.” At illa: “O fili, sepius tibi dixi ut a sosietate mulieris caveas. Tunc tibi monile trado et de cetero caveas ne illud perdas.” }

Mothers typically love even their male children. Sons should take seriously their mothers’ advice about women.

When Jonathas returned to the university, his girlfriend welcomed him back to his room. Jonathas continued to live with her. With the power of his necklace he again lived in luxury. His girlfriend again wondered about how he acquired so many goods:

Day and night she urged him to reveal the truth to her about how he provided for himself, because he dined so sumptuously and invited others to his feast. However, for a long time he was unwilling to inform her. She, however, wept continually and said: “Alas for me, alas! You don’t trust me! If you were to tell me the truth, I would pledge my life that I would never again lose your precious item.” Jonathas, when he heard this, believed her and informed her about the power of his necklace.

{ Ipsum diebus et noctibus pulsabat ut veritatem ei propaleret quomodo se habebat, quod tam splendide comedebat et alio ad convivium invitabat. Ille vero ei indicare per magnum tempus nolebat. Ille vero ei indicare per magnum tempus nolebat. Ipsa vero continue flebat et dicebat: “Heu mich, heu! Tu non confidis in me! Si veritatem michi diceres, vitam meam obligarem ut numquam iterum iocale perderem.” Ionathas, cum hec audisset, ei credidit et de virtute monili ei indicabat. }

Felicia appreciated the enormous power of her tears. This weeping girlfriend kept weeping:

She wept bitterly and would not be consoled. Jonathas said to her: “Why are you weeping like this, and for what reason is your spirit distressed?” She said: “I fear that you will lose the necklace and so lose its great power.” He said: “And you, what would you like to recommend to me concerning this?” She said: “That you give it to me to keep as custodian.” To which he said: “I fear that you will lose the necklace just as you did the ring.” And she said: “In truth, death will separate my soul from my body before I lose the necklace!” Jonathas, believing her, gave her the necklace.

{ fleuit amare nec consolari volebat. Ait ei Ionathas: “Cur sic fles, et ob quam causam affligitur anima vestra?” At illa: “Timeo quod monile perdes et sic magnam virtutem perdes.” At ille: “Et tu, quid velles michi super hoc consulere?” At illa: “Ut michi ad custodiendum tradas.” Cui dixit: “Timeo quod monile perdes sicut anulum.” At illa: “Revera mors animam meam a corpore separabit antequam monile perdam!” Ionathas, credens ei, tradidit ei monile. }

After giving her his necklace, Jonathas became impoverished. He asked her to return his necklace. Felicia wept and pitied herself once more:

She went into their bedroom and cried out in a loud voice: “Alas for me, alas! The necklace has been stolen! I want to kill myself from too much sorrow!” She pulled out a knife and pretended to stab herself. When Jonathas saw this, he ran to her, believing that she wanted to kill herself from too much sorrow. He took the knife away from her and said: “Do not grieve so. I forgive you for everything.”

{ Ipsa cameram intrabat et alta voce clamabat: “Heu michi, heu! Monile est ablatum! Volo meipsam interficere pre nimio dolore!” Cultellulm extraxit et finxit seipsam percutere. Ionathas, cum vidisset, cucurrit ad eam, credens quod vellet seipsam interficiere pre dolore. Cultellum ab ea abstraxit et ait: “Nolite sic dolere. Totum tibi remitto.” }

Jonathas again returned to his beloved mother. He told her how he had lost the necklace. She responded:

Son, you know well that I have only one more precious item, namely a very valuable carpet. You can now choose whether to lose it or to leave it with me. I have often told you to beware of a woman’s trickery.

{ Fili, tibi constat quod non habeo nisi unum iocale, scilicet pannum preciosum. Modo poteris eligere illum perdere vel dimittere. Sepius tibi dixi a fraude mulieris cavere. }

This mother showed some sarcasm in telling her son he could choose to lose the carpet or leave it with her. Mothers are human beings. If a mother occasionally makes sarcastic remarks to her son, that doesn’t mean that she despises him. Jonathas took the magic carpet from his mother and promised not to lose it.

flying carpet

Jonathas attempted to be an active, initiating partner in his relationship with his girlfriend. When he returned to his room at the university, he spread the carpet and told his girlfriend to sit on it with him. Then he silently wished to be transported to an utterly remote place. The magic carpet immediately took him and his girlfriend there:

When the woman perceived their situation, she cried out: “Alas for me, alas! How have we been transported here?” And he said: “Now we are here and I will abandon you to be alone and wild beasts will devour you, because you have taken into your possession my ring and necklace.” “Ah, lord, have mercy on me! If you will take me back to the city where I was today, I will give the ring and necklace to you without any objection, and if I don’t fulfill this pledge, I obligate myself to the most foul death.” Jonathas immediately put his trust in what she said. He responded to her: “See that from now on you do no wrong, because if you do, you will die.”

{ Mulier, cum hec percepisset, clamabat: “Heu michi, heu! Quomodo hic positi sumus?” At ille: “Iam hic sumus et te solam relinquam et bestie devorabunt te, quia anulum meum et monile penes te tenuisti.” “A, domine, miserere mei! Si me ad civitatem meam duxeris ubi eram hodie, anulum et monile tibi dabo sine contradiccione, et nisi hoc implevero, ad mortem turpissimam me obligo.” Jonathas vero statim adhibebat fidem dictis suis et ait ei: “Videas de cetero quod no delinquas, quia, si sic, morieris.” }

Felicia then asked Jonathas how they had been transported to that remote place. He explained that the magic carpet took persons sitting on it wherever they wished to go.

After all his initiative and activity in responding to his girlfriend’s treachery, Jonathas felt sleepy. He sought to sleep while enjoying his girlfriend’s bodily presence:

He said to her: “Beyond what can be believed, I have a wish to sleep. Open your lap so that I may rest in it and sleep a little.” She was instantly ready and received his head in her lap. He began to sleep deeply. Perceiving this, she pulled the part of the carpet that was under him totally to her and thought: “If only I were now where I was in the morning.” Immediately she was placed in that location. Jonathas remained in the former place. He was now sleeping alone.

{ ait ille: “Ultra quam credi potest voluntatem dormiendi habeo. Extende gremium tuum ut in eo quiescam et paululum dormiam.” Statim erat parata et caput eius in gremium recipiebat. Incepit fortiter dormire. Ipsa, hec percipiens, traxit partem panni que sub ipso erat totaliter ad eam et cogitavit: “Utinam modo fuissem ubi mane eram.” Statimque posita est in eodem loco et Ionathas solus dormiendo remansit. }

When Jonathas woke, he realized that he was alone, without his magic carpet, amid wild beasts in some unknown place. That’s what it’s like to have the rug pulled out from under you.[7] Jonathas wept bitterly, but no one would care because he was a man.

Jonathas started walking along a path in the wilderness. He had to step through some water. The water was so hot and foul that it parted the flesh from the bones of his feet. Jonathas stored some of this burning water in a bottle. Subsequently he saw a tree laden with fruit. He ate some of that fruit and was immediately transformed into a leper. He took some of that leprous fruit with him. Subsequently he had to step through another stream. This water healed his burned feet. He filled another bottle with that healing water. After that, he saw another fruit tree. When he ate the fruit of that tree his leprosy was healed. He kept some of that healing fruit.

Jonathas then came to a castle. Squires of the castle asked him who he was. He said that he was a doctor from a far-away land. The squires explained that the king was a leper and was desperately seeking a doctor who could cure his leprosy. Many doctors had tried, failed, and been killed for failing. Jonathas proclaimed that he could cure the king. He gave the king some healing fruit to eat and some healing water to drink. The king was instantly cured of his leprosy. The king acclaimed Jonathas and gave him many gifts. At Jonathas’s insistence, the king helped him to find a ship to take him back to the university where he had studied.

After many days’ voyage aboard the ship, Jonathas arrived back at his university. His girlfriend Felicia had become the richest person in its city through the power of the ring, the necklace, and the magic carpet that she had stolen from Jonathas. She, however, was afflicted with a terrible illness. No doctor could cure her. Hearing that a newly arrived doctor could miraculously cure, she summoned him. She didn’t recognize that the new doctor was Jonathas, the boyfriend she had grievously betrayed.

Jonathas told the sick Felicia that for his medicine to be effective, she had to first confess any thieving she had done and return the stolen property. The desperately ill Felicia confessed that she had stolen a ring, a necklace, and a carpet from the Emperor’s son Jonathas. She said that these items were in a chest at the foot of her bed. Jonathas opened the chest and found the items. He put the ring on his finger, the necklace around his neck, and held the carpet under his arm. Then he gave his girlfriend the leprous fruit to eat and the burning water to drink. She ate and drank this medicine. Immediately her body broke open and all her internal organs pushed out. With Jonathas’s help, she thus finally fulfilled one promise that she had made to him: if she betrayed him, she promised to die “a most foul death {mors turpissima}.”[8]

Go, small book, to the noble excellence
of my lady of Westmerland and say,
her humble servant, with all reverence
commends it unto her nobility.
And beseech and beg her on my behalf
to receive you for her own right.
And you look in all manner of ways
to please her royal womanhood with your might.

{ Go, smal book / to the noble excellence
Of my lady / of Westmerland / and seye,
Hir humble seruant / with al reuerence
Him recommandith vn-to hir nobleye;
And byseeche hire / on my behalue, & preye.
Thee to receyue / for hire owne right;
And looke thow / in al manere weye
To plese hir wommanhede / do thy might. }

To serve women with his Series, Thomas Hoccleve translated the tale of Jereslaus’s wife and the tale of Jonathas from the medieval Latin Gesta Romanorum. Hoccleve was far from a woman-server like the knight Ulrich von Liechtenstein in the thirteenth-century Service of Ladies {Frauendienst}. His final rhyme of “right” and “might” underscores that his Series challenges women’s social dominance. “Right” could mean “correctness” that needs to be achieved, and “might” plausibly puns with “mite,” which in turn suggests the rascal Hoccleve’s small effort to reform gynocentrism. Hoccleve showed women that they didn’t necessarily have to be contentious, mendacious, self-centered persons. Woman can reject the sickness of anti-meninism and show mercy and love even for wrong-doing men, just as the Empress did. As for men, if they don’t want to be sick and false, they should worship God rather than women.

Farewell my sorrow — I cast it to the cock.
With patience I henceforth think to unpick
the lock of such thoughtful disease and woe,
and let out thoughts that have made me sick.
Hereafter our Lord God may, if He likes,
make all my old friends return,
and in hope of that I will comfort myself.

Through God’s just decree and His judgement,
and for my good I now take and deem
that the good Lord gave me my punishment.
In wealth I took of him no attention or heed
to please him and honor him and worship him,
so he gave me a bone on which to gnaw,
to correct me and to have for him awe.

He gave me wit, and he took it away
when he saw that I badly spent it,
and gave it again when it was to his glory.
He granted me my guilt to repent
and henceforth to set my intent
upon his godliness and to do his bidding
and to amend my sinful behavior.

{ farwell my sorow / I caste it to the cok.
with pacience / I hens-forthe thinke vnpike
of suche thowghtfull dissease and woo / the lok,
and let them out / that have me made to sike;
here-aftar owr lorde god / may, yf hym lyke,
make all myne olde affection resorte;
and in hope of that / woll I me comforte.

Thrwghe gods iust dome / and his iudgement,
and for my best[e] / now I take and deme,
gave that good lorde / me my punishement:
in welthe I toke of hym / none hede or yeme,
hym for to please / and hym honoure and queme,
and he me gave a bone / on for to knaw[e],
me to correcte / and of hym to have awe.

he gave me wit / and he toke it away
when that he se / that I it mys dyspent[e],
and gave agayne / when it was to his pay,
he grauntyd me / my giltes to repent[e],
and hens-forwarde / to set myne entent[e],
vnto his deitie / to do plesaunce,
and to amend / my synfull governaunce. }[9]

* * * * *

Read more:


Follow-up: Scholarly anti-meninism in the reception of this post.

[1] Thomas Hoccleve, Series, A Dialogue {A dialoge} st. 97-100 (vv. 673-700), Middle English text from Furnivall (1892) pp. 134-5, my English modernization. Hoccleve’s writings have a complex manuscript corpus. The best current editions for Hoccleve’s Series are Burrow (1999) and Ellis (2001). For a Middle English edition and English modernization of Hoccleve’s Letter of Cupid, Erler & Fenster (1990). Here’s a bibliography of scholarly articles on Hoccleve.

I refer to the author-figure of Hoccleve’s Dialogue as Hoccleve for convenience. The text itself refers to him familiarly as Thomas. This persona of the poem is not necessarily identical with the historical Thomas Hoccleve. According to a literary platitude going back at least as far as Catullus, poetry isn’t a historical record of actual lives. But at least for Hoccleve, it’s clearly relevant. For a sophisticated consideration of personal indications, Sobecki (2019).

On Hoccleve’s Letter of Cupid and whether it offended women, Fleming (1971). Fleming seems to have offended women by pointing out that the arguments in Hoccleve source, Christine de Pizan’s Letter to the God of Love {L’Epistre au Dieu d’Amours}, are “obtuse and naïve.” Id. p. 36. Writing as a zealous advocate for medieval anti-meninist Christine de Pizan, Winstead (1993) considers at length whether Hoccleve should be charged with “antifeminism.” Winstead complained: ‘the “Tale of Jereslaus’s Wife” develops in a way that could only irritate proponents of feminine maistrie.’ Moreover, “Hoccleve the author is adhering to his design of mocking troublesome women.” Id. pp. 146, 148. Scholars should recognize that troublesome and contentious men authors deserve support and encouragement.

In his Series, Hoccleve considers what choosing the better part means in relation to a man author writing amid women’s social dominance. Cf. Luke 10:42.

Subsequent quotes from Hoccleve’s Series are similarly sourced. They are from Dialogue, st. 103, v. 718 (rule and governance), st. 107, vv. 743-9 (Now Thomas…), st. 115-8, vv. 799-826 (When he was gone…); Tale of Jonathas, st. 6-7, vv. 36-49 (Friend, it would be difficult for me…); Concluding Dedication (Go, small book…); Complaint, st. 57-9, vv. 386-406 (Farewell my sorrow…).

[2] Larsen & Pendell (2018) p. 509. Vines observed:

The interactions between Hoccleve and the Friend, as laid out in both the formal Dialogue and their continued conversations throughout the Series, provide not only the connective tissue for the disparate selections, but also an ideological center to the Series, a safe and intimate environment conducive to exploring new ways of interacting with the often overwhelming social and creative requirements of the patronage system. These conversations and the awkward progression of the Series texts demonstrate Hoccleve’s attempts to control his re-entry into the fraught world of literary politics, and guard against fully abdicating his authorial control and newly re-acquired sanity.

Vines (2013) p. 203.

[3] The tale of Jereslaus’s wife (“Chaste Empress”) is exemplum 100 in the Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum, edition of Bright (2019). In this article, quotes from this exemplum use the Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) of id. The exemplum of Jereslaus’s wife isn’t included in some versions of the Continental Gesta Romanorum. It’s supplemental exemplum 249 in Oesterley (1872). In Bright’s Anglo-Latin edition, the Emperor is written as Gerelaus. Hoccleve translated Gerelaus as Jereslaus. On the Gesta Romanorum generally, Bennett (2017) and Classen (2017).

The tale of Jereslaus’s wife features four evil men. One of the evil men was the Emperor Jereslaus’s brother. He propositioned the Empress for sex. She rebuffed him. Then she had him bound and imprisoned because “he oppresses the simple and the poor, robs the rich, and would do other outrageous things, if he could {simplices et pauperes deprimit, divites spoliat, et aliud enorme perpetrare vellet, si posset}.”

When the Emperor was returning to Rome, his brother begged the Empress to release him from prison. He promised to refrain from doing wrong. She thus mercifully released him. He then viciously betrayed her. In a remote forest, he hung her on a tree by her hair and then abandoned her.

A count passing through the forest rescued the Empress and took her to his castle. The Empress identified herself only as: “I am a foreign woman from far-away lands {mulier extranea sum de partibus longinquis}.” The count then hired her to be a governess to his young daughter. The count’s steward fell in love with her and repeatedly propositioned her. She rebuffed him. Furious at her rejecting him, the steward killed the count’s daughter and framed the Empress as the murderer. The count then expelled the Empress from his lands.

As the Empress rode away from the count’s castle, she saw preparations to hang a thief. She paid a fee to save the thief’s life. He pledged faithfulness to her for saving his life. But then he betrayed her to a shipowner, who abducted her. The shipowner sought to have sex with her. She refused. He then threatened to rape her. Before he could rape her, a storm sunk the ship. Only the Empress and the shipowner survived the shipwreck. She then went to a convent as an anonymous nun.

In the tale of Jereslaus’s wife, the negative portrayal of men as sexually desperate, vicious persons draws upon anti-meninist stereotypes. Not all men are like that. Men, who have long suffered oppressive structural injustices, are wonderful persons whose sexuality can be a precious gift to women.

[4] As thoughtful medieval Christians would have understood, the Empress was like the mother of God, but not herself God.

[5] Continental Gesta Romanorum 120, “About the subtle deceits of women {De mulierum subtili deceptione},” Latin text from Oesterley (1872), my English translation, benefiting from that of Stace (2018). The corresponding tale in Bright’s Anglo-Norman Gesta Romanorum is 54, “Jonathas.” Here I’ve drawn on the continental version because it’s more contextually descriptive.

In 1614, William Browne incorporated into Eclogue 1 of his book The Shepheard’s Pipe Hoccleve’s translation of the tale of Jonathas. For that text, Hazlitt (1868) vol. 2, pp. 165ff. On the Gesta Romanorum in English translation, Herrtage (1879).

The tale of Jonathas in the Gesta Romanorum probably contributed to the story of Fortunatus, first known through publication in German in Augsburg in 1509. Fortunatus acquired a bottomless purse: a purse from which money could be continually taken without any being put into it. He also acquired a magic hat that would transport the wearer anywhere he desired. Fortunatus gave his precious items to his two sons. They behaved badly and eventually were imprisoned or killed. The story of Fortunatus was translated into many European languages in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Elizabethian dramatist Thomas Dekker wrote The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus in 1599.

Fortunatus’s bottomless purse and magic hat are similar to the necklace and carpet in the tale of Jonathas. Jonathas eventually took to heart his mother’s teaching about women and triumphed in the end. The tale of Fortunatus contains no such wisdom, and Fortunatus’s sons came to a bad end. The tale of Fortunatus regrettably became more popular than the tale of Jonathas.

[6] This and subsequent quotes above from the Gesta Romanorum are from Bright’s Anglo-Norman Gesta Romanorum, exemplum 54, “Jonathas.” In Hoccleve’s tale of Jonathas, the girlfriend is named Fellicula. Hoccleve highlighted Jonathas’s foolish sexual ardor:

With a woman, a morsel of pleasure,
by the streets of the university
as he was doing his walking, met he.

And right away with her he had an affair
and there all ardent he burned in love with her.
Gay, fresh, and pointed was she to sell herself,
because to that end and to that intent
she came thither, and both went forth,
and he soon paddled a pestle in her,
not something I know, because I was not there.

She was his paramour, shortly to say.

{ With a womman, a morsel of plesance.
By the streetes of the vniuersitee
As he was in his walkynge, mette he;

And right as blyue he with hire had a tale,
And ther-with-al / sore in hir loue he brente:
Gay / fressh and pykid was shee to the sale,
ffor to þat ende and to þat entente
Shee thidir cam / and bothe foorth they wente,
And he a pistle rowned in hire ere:
Nat woot y what / for y ne cam nat there.

Shee was his paramour, shortley to seye. }

From Hoccleve, Series, Tale of Jonathas, st. 23-25, vv. 160-9. Representing Jonathas’s penis as a pestle dehumanizes him and his sexuality. Men’s penises have historically been brutalized and dehumanized.

[7] The Online Etymology Dictionary attributes the expression “pull the rug out from under (someone)” only back to 1936. It seems to me likely that the expression comes from a magic-carpet episode like that of Jonathas having the carpet pulled out from under him in the above tale.

[8] Functioning in support of dominant gynocentric ideology, Richardson interpreted Hoccleve’s tale of Jonathas as a “male revenge fantasy” rather than a triumph of social justice. He declared:

I do not think it is farfetched to perceive in Fellicula’s destruction a kind of symbolic rape, a form of penetration and internal destruction. … This misogynistic violence is a function of Jonathas’s disenchantment with Fellicula …. The poem violently nullifies Fellicula’s power over Jonathas, rendering the once alluring and mysterious to be simply revolting.

Richardson (2018) pp. 280-1. The impersonal, anti-hyperbolic interpretative rhetoric of the first quoted sentence indicates the extent to which the author is delusional. Simply revolting indeed. But his is a functional delusion. Vicious anti-meninism is highly valued in literary studies today.

Richardson went on to quote Camille Paglia’s gender essentialism:

Sex crimes are always male, never female, because such crimes are conceptualizing assaults on the unreachable omnipotence of woman and nature.

Id., quoting Paglia (1990) p. 22. Such pretentious nonsense supports mendacious newspaper reporting about rape and the massively gender-disproportionate imprisonment of men.

Richardson’s concluding paragraph conjures a stirring evocation of poor-dearism:

In male revenge fantasy, villains such as Fellicula perform the vital work of affirming readers’ faith in a moral universe, as long as such women suffer terribly in the end. To paraphrase Voltaire, if Fellicula did not exist, it would be necessary to invent her.

Richardson (2018) p. 286. Readers’ faith in a moral universe would be much better affirmed by eliminating the massively gender-disproportionate imprisonment of men, ending the rhetorical and actual disproportionate violence against men, eliminating men’s lifespan shortfall relative to women, establishing reproductive rights for men, and erasing acute sex discrimination against men in child-custody and child-support decisions.

Stavsky disparaged Jonathas for gaining appreciation for his mother’s wisdom about women and living with his mother. Stavsky declared:

Returning to his mother’s house, he comes full circle to a state of stunted growth: that of a self-centered youth who cannot become a man. His trajectory mirrors the circularity of his thinking, which is unable to advance beyond its premises and to create something new, much like the antifeminist banter criticized in the Epistre.

Stavsky (2014) p. 454. Women such as Christine de Pizan in her Epistre saying that men have offended them is nothing new. See, e.g. Socrates’s wife Xanthippe. Jonathas recognized the value of his mother’s wisdom about women and returned to care lovingly for his mother in her old age. Such action in no way implies that Jonathan doesn’t become a man. For far too long men have been required to prove that they are a man. That gender hypocrisy should be decisively rejected.

[9] Hoccleve, Series, My Complaint {My Compleinte} st. 57-9 (vv. 386-406), Middle English text from Furnivall (1892) p. 109, my English modernization. Here’s Jenni Nuttall’s prose modernization of all of Hoccleve’s Complaint. Hoccleve also wrote a complaint featuring the voice of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross: Paramount Complaint {Conpleynte paramont}. For an English modernization, Varnum (2019).

[images] (1) Fortunatus, sporting a large cod-piece, receives the purse of plenty from the generous Lady Fortune. Woodcut from the 1509 Ausburg first edition {editio princeps} of Fortunatus. Woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder. Via Michael Haldane. (2) Ivan Tsarevich on a flying carpet. Oil on canvas painting by Viktor Vasnetsov in 1880. Preserved in the Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum in Russia. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bennett, Alastair. 2017. Entry for Gesta Romanorum. The Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Burrow, John, ed. 1999. Thomas Hoccleve’s Complaint and Dialogue. Early English Text Society, Original series, 313. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Classen, Albrecht. 2017. “The Gesta Romanorum: A Sammelbecken of Ancient Wisdom and Didactic Literature and a Medieval ‘Bestseller’ Revisited.” Literature & Aesthetics. 27 (1): 73-98.

Ellis, Roger, ed. 2001. Thomas Hoccleve. My compleinte and other poems. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. Review by Michael Calabrese.

Erler, Mary Carpenter and Thelma S. Fenster, ed. and trans. 1990. Poems of Cupid, God of Love: Christine de Pizan’s Epistre au dieu d’amours and Dit de la rose, Thomas Hoccleve’s The Letter of Cupid: editions and translations, with George Sewell’s The Proclamation of Cupid. Leiden: Brill.

Fleming, John V. 1971. “Hoccleve’s ‘Letter of Cupid’ and the ‘Quarrel’ over the Roman de la Rose.” Medium Ævum. 40 (1): 21-40.

Furnivall, Frederick J., ed. 1892. Hoccleve’s works. Vol. 1 (no. 61), The minor poems in the Phillipps ms. 8151 (Cheltenham) and the Durham ms. III. 9. Early English Text Society, Extra Series, no. 61, 72, 73. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner.

Hazlitt, W. Carew, ed. 1868. The Whole Works of William Browne, of Tavistock … Now first collected and edited, with a memoir of the poet, and notes. London: Printed for The Roxburghe Library. Vol. 1, Vol. 2.

Herrtage, Sidney J. H. 1879. The Early English Versions of the Gesta Romanorum. London: Published for the Early English Text Society by Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press.

Larsen, Vickie and John Pendell. 2018.”Thomas Hoccleve’s Series and English Verse in Early Fifteenth-Century London.” Philological Quarterly. 97 (4): 499-514.

Oesterley, Hermann, ed. 1872. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmann.

Paglia, Camille. 1990. Sexual Personae: art and decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Richardson, Gavin. 2018. “Disenchantment: Hoccleve’s Tale of Jonathas and Male Revenge Fantasy.” Ch. 8 (pp. 267-287) in Bedos-Rezak, Brigitte, and Martha Dana Rust, eds. Faces of Charisma: image, text, object in Byzantium and the medieval West. Leiden; Boston: Brill.

Sobecki, Sebastian. 2019. Last Words: The Public Self and the Social Author in Late Medieval England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stace, Christopher, trans. 2018. Gesta Romanorum: A New Translation. Manchester University Press.

Stavsky, Jonathan. 2014. “Hoccleve’s Take on Chaucer and Christine de Pizan: Gender, Authorship, and Intertextuality in the Epistre au dieu d’Amours, the Letter of Cupid, and the Series.” Philological Quarterly. 93 (4): 435-460.

Varnam, Laura. 2019. “Hoccleve Recovery Day: Translation of The Complaint Paramount.” Blog of Dr Laura Varnam. Entry dated Nov. 1, 2019.

Vines, Amy N. 2013. “The Rehabilitation of Patronage in Hoccleve’s Series.” Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures. 2 (2): 201-221.

Winstead, Karen A. 1993. ‘“I am al othir to yow than yee weene”: Hoccleve, Women, and the Series.’ Philological Quarterly. 72 (2): 143-155.

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