Joseph Swetnam
The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women (1615)

In 1617 John Swetnam's misogynist pamphlet The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women (1615) induced English women to enter the debate on the woman question that had been boiling on the continent for 2 centuries. The debate was in part a game of wit played by men for their own amusement or the patronage of women, in part a serious discussion of women's abilities and rightful roles, and in part an effort by publishers and book sellers to drum up business for the relatively cheap books made possible by the newly invented printing press. Swetnam's tract, a mishmash of, by now commonplace, proverbs, jokes, invectives, arguments, and anecdotes, provoked, not one woman, but three women, to respond to him. Rachel Speght was the first of his respondents in her A Mouzell for Melastomus (1617) .

Chapter I: To What Use Women Were Made
Chapter II: The Manner of Such Women as Live Upon Evil Report
Chapter III: A Remedy Against Love
Bearbaiting, or the Vanity of Widows, Take Your Pick

ward, and unconstant women: Or
the vanity of them, choose you whether,
With a Commendation of wise, virtuous, and
honest Women,
Pleasant for married Men, profitable for young Men, and
hurtful to none.

Neither to the best nor yet to the worst, but to the common sort of Women.


Musing with myself, being idle, and having little ease to pass the time withal, and I being in a great choler against some women (I mean more than one); and so in the rough of my fury, taking my pen in hand to beguile the time withal, indeed I might have employed myself to better use than in such an idle business, and better it were to pocket up a pelting injury than to entangle myself with such vermin. For this I know, that because women are women, therefore many of them will do that in an hour which they many times will repent all their whole lifetime after. Yet for any injury which I have received of them, the more I consider of it, the less I esteem of the same. Yet perhaps some may say unto me that I have sought for honey, caught the Bee by the tail, or that I have been bit or stung with some of these wasps, otherwise I could never have been expert in betraying their qualities. For the Mother would never have sought her Daughter in the Oven but that she was there first herself. Indeed, I must confess I have been a Traveler this thirty and odd years, and many travelers live in disdain of women. The reason is for that their affections are so poisoned with the heinous evils of unconstant women which they happen to be acquainted with in their travels; for it doth so cloy their stomachs that they censure hardly of women ever afterwards. Wronged men will not be tongue-tied; therefore if you do ill, you must not think to hear well. For although the world be bad, yet it is not come to that pass that men should bear with all the bad conditions that is in some women.

I know I shall be bitten by many because I touch many, but before I go any further, let me whisper one word in your ears, and that is this: whatsoever you think privately, I wish you to conceal it with silence, lest in starting up to find fault you prove yourselves guilty of these monstrous accusations which are here following against some women. And those which spurn if they feel themselves touched prove themselves stark fools in betraying their galled backs to the world, for this book touches no sort of women but such as when they hear it will go about to reprove it. For although in some part of this book I trip at your heels, yet I will stay you by the hand so that you shall not fall further than you are willing, although I deal with you after the manner of a shrew, which cannot otherwise ease her cursed heart but by her unhappy tongue. If I be too earnest, bear with me a little; for my meaning is not to speak much of those that are good, and I shall speak too little of those that are not. But yet I will not altogether condemn the bad, but hoping to better the good by the naughty examples of the bad, for there is no woman so good but has one idle part or other in her which may be amended. For the clearest River that is has some dirt in the bottom; Jewels are all precious, but yet they are not all of one price nor all of one virtue. Gold is not all of one picture; no more are women all of one disposition. Women are all necessary evils and yet not all given to wickedness; and yet many so bad, that in my conceit if I should speak the worst that I know by some women, I should make their ears glow that hears me, and my tongue would blister to report it. But it is a great discredit for a man to be accounted for a scold, for scolding is the manner of Shrews.

. . . When I first began to write this book, my wits were gone awoolgathering, . . . and so in the rough of my fury I vowed forever to be an open enemy to women. . . .

Read it if you please and like as you list: neither to the wisest Clerk nor yet to the starkest Fool, but unto the ordinary sort of giddy-headed young men I send this greeting.

If you mean to see the Bear-baiting of women, then trudge to this Bear garden apace and get in betimes. And view every room where you may best sit for your own pleasure, profit, and heart’s-ease, and bear with my rudeness if I chance to offend you. But before I do open this trunk full of torments against women, I think it were not amiss to resemble those which in old time did sacrifices to Hercules. For they used first to whip all their Dogs out of their City, and I think it were not amiss to drive all the women out of my hearing. For doubt lest this little spark kindle into such a flame and raise so many stinging Hornets humming about my ears that all the wit I have will not quench the one nor quiet the other. For I fear me that I have set down more than they will like of, and yet a great deal less than they deserve. And for better proof I refer myself to the judgment of men which have more experience than myself, for I esteem little of the malice of women. For men will be persuaded with reason, but women must be answered with silence. For I know women will bark more at me than Cerberus, the two-headed Dog, did at Hercules when he came into Hell to fetch out the fair Proserpina, and yet I charge them now but with a bulrush in respect of a second book which is almost ready. I do now but fret them with a false fire, but my next charge shall be with weapons, and my alarm with powder and shot. For then we will go upon these venomous Adders, Serpents, and Snakes and tread and trample them under our feet. For I have known many men stung with some of these Scorpions, and therefore I warn all men to beware the Scorpion. I know women will bite the lip at me and censure hardly of me, but I fear not the cursed Cow, for she commonly has short horns. Let them censure of me what they will, for I mean not to make them my Judges, and if they shoot their spite at me, they may hit themselves. And so I will smile at them as at the foolish fly which burns herself in the candle. And so, friend Reader, if you have any discretion at all, you may take a happy example by these most lascivious and crafty, whorish, thievish, and knavish women, which were the cause of this my idle time spending. And yet I have no warrant to make you believe this which I write to be true, but yet the simple Bee gathers honey where the venomous Spider doth her poison. And so I will hinder you no longer from that which ensues, but here I will conclude lest you have cause to say that my Epistles are longer than my book: a Book, I hope I may call it without any offense, for the Collier calls his horse a Horse, and the King’s great Steed is but a Horse.
If you Read but the beginning of a book you can give no judgment of that which ensues; therefore I say as the Friar who in the midst of his sermon said often that the best was behind. And so if you read it all over, you shall not be deluded, for the best is behind. I think I have shot so near the white that some will account me for a good Archer. And so, praying you to look to your footing that you run not over your shoes and so be past recovery before my second book come,

your friend nameless,
To keep myself blameless

CHAPTER I. This first Chapter shows to what use Women were made; it also shows that most of them degenerate from the use they were framed unto by leading a proud, lazy, and idle life, to the great hindrance of their poor Husbands.

Moses describes a woman thus: “At the first beginning,” saith he, “a woman was made to be a helper unto man.” And so they are indeed, for she helps to spend and consume that which man painfully gets. He also saith that they were made of the rib of a man, and that their froward nature shows; for a rib is a crooked thing good for nothing else, and women are crooked by nature, for small occasion will cause them to be angry.
Again, in a manner she was no sooner made but straightway her mind was set upon mischief, for by her aspiring mind and wanton will she quickly procured man’s fall. And therefore ever since they are and have been a woe unto man and follow the line of their first leader.

For I pray you, let us consider the times past with the time present: first, that of David and Solomon, if they had occasion so many hundred years ago to exclaim so bitterly against women. For the one of them said that it was better to be a doorkeeper and better dwell in a den amongst Lions than to be in the house with a froward and wicked woman, and the other said that the climbing up of a sandy hill to an aged man was nothing so wearisome as to be troubled with a froward woman. And further he saith that the malice of a beast is not like the malice of a wicked woman, nor that there is nothing more dangerous than a woman in her fury.

The Lion being bitten with hunger, the Bear being robbed of her young ones, the Viper being trod on, all these are nothing so terrible as the fury of a woman. A Buck may be enclosed in a Park; a bridle rules a horse; a Wolf may be tied; a Tiger may be tamed; but a froward woman will never be tamed. No spur will make her go, nor no bridle will hold her back, for if a woman hold an opinion, no man can draw her from it. Tell her of her fault, she will not believe that she is in any fault; give her good counsel, but she will not take it. If you do but look after another woman, then she will be jealous; the more you love her, the more she will disdain you. And if you threaten her, then she will be angry; flatter her, and then she will be proud. And if you forbear her, it makes her bold, and if you chasten her, then she will turn to a Serpent. At a word, a woman will never forget an injury nor give thanks for a good turn. What wise man then will exchange gold for dross, pleasure for pain, a quiet life for wrangling brawls, from the which the married men are never free?

Solomon saith that women are like unto wine, for that they will make men drunk with their devices.

Again in their love a woman is compared to a pumice stone, for which way soever you turn a pumice stone, it is full of holes; even so are women’s hearts, for if love steal in at one hole it steps out at another.

They are also compared unto a painted ship, which seems fair outwardly and yet nothing but ballast within her; or as the Idols in Spain which are bravely gilt outwardly and yet nothing but lead within them; or like unto the Sea which at some times is so calm that a cockboat may safely endure her might, but anon again with outrage she is so grown that it overwhelmed! the tallest ship that is.

A froward woman is compared to the wind and a still woman unto the Sun, for the sun and the wind met a traveler upon the way and they laid a wager, which of them should get his cloak from him first. Then first the wind began boisterously to blow, but the more the wind blew the more the traveler wrapped and gathered his cloak about him. Now when the wind had done what he could and was never the nearer, then began the Sun gently to shine upon him, and he threw off not only his cloak but also his hat and Jerkin. This moral shows that a woman with high words can get nothing at the hands of her husband; never by froward means, but by gentle and fair means she may get his heart blood to do her good. . . .

A gentleman on a time said to his friend, “I can help you to a good marriage for your son.” His friend made him this answer: “My son,” said he, “shall stay till he have more wit.” The Gentleman replied again, saying, “If you marry him not before he has wit, he will never marry so long as he lives.” For a married man is like unto one arrested, and I think that many a man would fly up into Heaven if this arrest of marriage kept them not back. It is said of one named Domettas that he buried three wives and yet never wet one handkerchief, no, nor shed not so much as one tear. Also Ulysses, he had a Dog which loved him well, and when that dog died he wept bitterly, but he never shed one tear when his wife died. Wherefore, if you marry without respect but only for bare love, then you will afterwards with sorrow say that there is more belongs to housekeeping than four bare legs in a bed. A man cannot live with his hands in his bosom nor buy meat in the market for honesty without money; where there is nothing but bare walls, it is a fit house to breed beggars into the world. Yet there are many which think when they are married that they may live by love, but if wealth be wanting, hot love will soon be cold, and your hot desires will be soon quenched with the smoke of poverty. To what end then should we live in love, seeing it is a life more to be feared than death? For all your money wastes in toys and is spent in banqueting, and all your time in sighs and sobs to think upon your trouble and charge which commonly cometh with a wife. For commonly women are proud without profit, and that is a good purgation for your purse; and when your purse is light, then will your heart be heavy.

The pride of a woman is like the dropsy, for as drink increases the drought of the one, even so money enlarges the pride of the other. your purse must be always open to feed their fancy, and so your expenses will be great and yet perhaps your gettings small. your house must be stored with costly stuff, and yet perhaps your Servants starved for lack of meat. you must discharge the Mercer’s book and pay the Haberdasher’s man, for her hat must continually be of the new fashion and her gown of finer wool than the sheep beareth any. She must likewise have her Jewel box furnished, especially if she be beautiful, for then commonly beauty and pride goes together, and a beautiful woman is for the most part costly and no good housewife. And if she be a good housewife, then no servant will abide her fierce cruelty, and if she be honest and chaste, then commonly she is jealous. A King’s crown and a fair woman is desired of many.

But he that gets either of them lives. in great troubles and hazard of his life. He that gets a fair woman is like unto a Prisoner loaded with fetters of gold, for you shall not so oft kiss the sweet lips of your beautiful wife as you shall be driven to fetch bitter sighs from your sorrowful heart in thinking of the charge which cometh by her. For if you deny her of such toys as she stand not in need of, and yet is desirous of them, then she will quickly shut you out of the doors of her favor and deny you her person, and show herself as it were at a window playing upon you. Not with small shot, but with a cruel tongue, she will ring you such a peal that one would think the Devil were come from Hell, saying, “I might have had those which would have maintained me like a woman, whereas now I go like nobody. But I will be maintained if you were hanged.” With suchlike words she will vex you, blubbering forth abundance of dissembling tears (for women do teach their eyes to weep). For do but cross a woman, although it be never so little, she will straightway put finger in the eye and cry; then presently many a foolish man will flatter her and entreat her to be quiet. But that mars all, for the more she is entreated, she will pour forth the more abundance of deceitful tears, and therefore no more to be pitied than to see a Goose go barefoot. For they have tears at command, so have they words at will and oaths at pleasure; for they make as much account of an oath as a Merchant doth which will forswear himself for the getting of a penny. I never yet knew woman that would deny to swear in defense of her own honesty and always standing highly upon it, although she be ashamed to wear it in winter for catching of cold, nor in summer for heat, fearing it may melt away.

Many will say this which I write is true, and yet they cannot beware of the Devil until they are plagued with his Dam; the little Lamb skips and leaps till the Fox come, but then he quivers and shakes. The Bear dances at the stake till the Dogs be upon his back, and some men never fear their money until they come into the hands of thieves. Even so, some will never be warned, and therefore is not to be pitied if they be harmed. What are women that makes you so greedily to gape after them? Indeed, some their faces are fairer and more beautiful than others; some again stand highly upon their fine foot and hand, or else all women are alike. “Joan is as good as my Lady” according to the Countryman’s Proverb, who gave a great sum of money to lie with a Lady. And going homewards, he made a grievous moan for his money, and one, being on the other side the hedge, heard him say that his Joan at home was as good as the Lady. But whether this be true or no myself I do not know, but you have it as I heard it.

If you marry a woman of evil report, her discredit will be a spot in your brow; you can not go in the street with her without mocks, nor amongst your neighbors without frumps, and commonly the fairest women are soonest enticed to yield unto vanity. He that has a fair wife and a whetstone every one will be whetting thereon; and a Castle is hard to keep when it is assaulted by many; and fair women are commonly caught at. He that marries a fair woman everyone will wish his death to enjoy her, and if you be never so rich and yet but a Clown in condition, then will your fair wife have her credit to please her fancy. For a Diamond has not his grace but in gold; no more has a fair woman her full commendations but in the ornament of her bravery, by which means there are divers women whose beauty has brought their husbands into great poverty and discredit by their pride and whoredom. A fair woman commonly will go like a Peacock, and her husband must go like a woodcock.

That great Giant Pamphimapho, who had Bears waiting upon him like Dogs, and he could make tame any wild beast, yet a wanton woman he could never rule nor turn to his will.

Solomon was the wisest Prince that ever was, yet he lusted after so many women that they made him quickly forsake his God which did always guide his steps, so long as he lived godly.

And was not David the best beloved of God and a mighty Prince? Yet for the love of women he purchased the displeasure of his God. Samson was the strongest man that ever was, for every lock of his head was the strength of another man; yet by a woman he was overcome. He revealed his strength and paid his life for that folly. Did not Jezebel for her wicked lust cause her husband’s blood to be given to dogs?

Job’s wife gave her husband counsel to blaspheme God and to curse him.

Agamemnon’s wife, for a small injury that her husband did her, she first committed adultery and afterwards consented to his death.

Also the wife of Hercules, she gave her husband a poisoned shirt, which was no sooner on his back, but did stick so fast that when he would have plucked it off, it tore the flesh with it.

If you will avoid these evils you must with Ulysses bind yourself to the mast of the ship as he did, or else it would have cost him his life, for otherwise the Syrenian women would have enticed him into the Sea if he had not so done. . . .

Women are called night Crows for that commonly in the night they will make request for such toys as cometh in their heads in the day, for women know their time to work their craft. For in the night they will work a man like wax and draw him like as the Adamant doth the Iron. And having once brought him to the bent of their bow, then she makes request for a gown of the new fashion stuff, or for a petticoat of the finest stamell, or for a hat of the newest fashion; her husband being overcome by her flattering speech and partly he yields to her request, although it be a grief to him for that he can hardly spare it out of his stock. Yet for quietness sake he doth promise what she demands, partly because he would sleep quietly in his bed. Again, every married man knows this, that a woman will never be quiet if her mind be set upon a thing till she have it.

Now if you drive her off with delays, then her forehead will be so full of frowns as if she threatened to make clubs trump, and you never a black card in your hand. For except a woman have what she will, say what she list, and go where she please, otherwise your house will be so full of smoke that you can not stay in it.

It is said that an old Dog and a hungry flea bite sore, but in my mind a froward woman bites more sorer; and if you go about to master a woman in hope to bring her to humility, there is no way to make her good with stripes except you beat her to death. For do what you will, yet a froward woman in her frantic mood will pull, haul, swerve, scratch and tear all that stands in her way.

What wilt you that I say more, O you poor married man? If women do not feel the rain, yet here is a shower coming which will wet them to the skins! A woman which is fair in show is foul in condition; she is like unto a glowworm which is bright in the hedge and black in the hand. In the greenest grass lies hid the greatest Serpents; painted pots commonly hold the deadly poison; and in the clearest water the ugliest Toad; and the fairest woman has some filthiness in her.

CHAPTER II: The Second Chapter shows the manner of such Women as live upon evil report; it also shows that the beauty of Women has been the bane of many a man, for it has overcome valiant and strong men, eloquent and subtle men. And, in a word, it has overcome all men, as by example following shall appear.

First that of Solomon, unto whom God gave singular wit and wisdom, yet he loved so many women that he quite forgot his God, which always did guide his steps, so long as he lived godly and ruled Justly. But after he had glutted himself with women, then he could say, “Vanity of vanity! All is but vanity!” He also in many places of his book of Proverbs exclaims most bitterly against lewd women, calling them all that not is, and also displays their properties. And yet I cannot let men go blameless although women go shameless, but I will touch them both, for if there were not receivers, then there would not be so many stealers; if there were not some knaves, there would not be so many whores, for they both hold together to bolster each other’s villainy. For always birds of a feather will flock together hand in hand to bolster each other’s villainy.

Men, I say, may live without women, but women cannot live without men: for Venus, whose beauty was excellent fair, yet when she needed man’s help, she took Vulcan, a clubfooted Smith. And therefore, if a woman’s face glitter and her gesture pierce the marble wall; or if her tongue be so smooth as oil or so soft as silk, and her words so sweet as honey; or if she were a very Ape for wit or a bag of gold for wealth; or if her personage have stolen away all that nature can afford, and if she be decked up in gorgeous apparel, then a thousand to one but she will love to walk where she may get acquaintance. And acquaintance brings familiarity, and familiarity sets all follies abroach; and twenty to one that if a woman love gadding but that she will pawn her honor to please her fantasy.

Man must be at all the cost and yet live by the loss; a man must take all the pains, and women will spend all the gains. A man must watch and ward, fight and defend, till the ground, labor in the vineyard, and look what he gets in seven years: a woman will spread it abroad with a fork in one year, and yet little enough to serve her turn, but a great deal too little to get her good will. Nay, if you give her never so much and yet if your personage please not her humor, then will I not give a halfpenny for her honesty at the year’s end.

For then her breast will be the harborer of an envious heart, and her heart the storehouse of poisoned hatred; her head will devise villainy, and her hands are ready to practice that which their heart desires. Then who can but say that women sprung from the Devil? Whose heads, hands, and hearts, minds and souls are evil, for women are called the hook of all evil because men are taken by them as fish is taken with the hook.

For women have a thousand ways to entice you and ten thousand ways to deceive you and all such fools as are suitors unto them: some they keep in hand with promises, and some they feed with flattery, and some they delay with dalliances, and some they please with kisses. They lay out the folds of their hair to entangle men into their love; betwixt their breasts is the vale of destruction; and in their beds there is hell, sorrow, and repentance. Eagles eat not men till they are dead, but women devour them alive. For a woman will pick your pocket and empty your purse, laugh in your face and cut your throat. They are ungrateful, perjured, full of fraud, flouting and deceit, unconstant, waspish, toyish, light, sullen, proud, discourteous, and cruel. And yet they were by God created and by nature formed, and therefore by policy and wisdom to be avoided. For good things abused are to be refused, or else for a month’s pleasure she may hap to make you go stark naked. She will give you roast meat, but she will beat you with the spit. If you have crowns in your purse, she will be your heart’s gold until she leave you not a whit of white money. They are like summer birds, for they will abide no storm, but flock about you in the pride of your glory and fly from you in the storms of affliction. For they aim more at your wealth than at your person and esteem more your money than any man’s virtuous qualities. For they esteem of a man without money as a horse doth of a fair stable without meat. They are like Eagles which will always fly where the carrion is.

They will play the horse-leech to suck away your wealth, but in the winter of your misery she will fly away from you not unlike the swallow, which in the summer harbors herself under the eves of an house and against winter flies away, leaving nothing but dirt behind her. . . .

But yet happily some may say unto me, “If you should refuse the company or the courtesy of a woman, then she would account you a soft-spirited fool, a milksop, and a meacock.” But alas, fond fool, wilt you more regard their babble than your own bliss, or esteem more their frumps than your own welfare? Dost you not know that women always strive against wisdom, although many times it be to their utter overthrow? Like the Bee which is often hurt with her own honey, even so women are often plagued with their own conceit, weighing down love with discourtesy, giving him a weed which presents them with flowers, as their catching in jest and their keeping in earnest. And yet she thinks that she keeps herself blameless, and in all ill vices she would go nameless. But if she carry it never so clean, yet in the end she will be accounted but for a cony-catching quean. And yet she will swear that she will thrive as long as she can find one man alive, for she thinks to do all her knavery invisible. She will have a fig leaf to cover her shame, but when the fig leaf is dry and withered, it doth show their nakedness to the world. For take away their painted clothes, and then they look like ragged walls; take away their ruffs, and they look ruggedly; their coifs and stomachers, and they are simple to behold; their hair untrussed, and they look wildly. And yet there are many which lays their nets to catch a pretty woman, but he which gets such a prize gains nothing by his adventure but shame to the body and danger to the soul. For the heat of the young blood of these wantons leads many unto destruction for this world’s pleasure. It chants your minds and enfeebles your bodies with diseases; it also scandals your good names, but most of all it endangers your souls. How can it otherwise choose, when lust and uncleanness continually keeps them company, gluttony and sloth serves them at the table, pride and vainglory apparels them? But these servants will wax weary of their service, and in the end they shall have no other servants to attend them, but only shame, grief, and repentance. But then, oh then you will say, when it is too late, “Oh, would to God that we had been more careful of true, glorious modesty and less cunning to keep wantons company!” Oh therefore remember and think beforehand that every sweet has his sour. Then buy not with a drop of honey a gallon of gall; do not think that this world’s pleasure will pass away with a trifle and that no sooner done but presently forgotten. No, no, answer yourselves that the punishment remaineth eternally, and therefore better it were to be an addle egg than an evil bird. For we are not born for ourselves to live in pleasure, but to take pains and to labor for the good of our Country. Yet so delightful is our present sweetness that we never remember the following sour, for youth are too easy won and overcome with the world’s vanities. Oh too soon, I say, is youth in the blossoms devoured with the caterpillars of foul lust and lascivious desires. The black Fiend of Hell by his enticing sweet sin of lust draws many young wits to confusion, for in time it draws the heart blood of your good names, and that, being once lost, is never gotten again.

Again, Lust causes you to do such foul deeds which makes your foreheads forever afterwards seem spotted with black shame and everlasting infamy, by which means your graves after death are closed up with time’s scandal. And yet women are easily wooed and soon won, got with an apple and lost with the paring. Young wits are soon corrupted; women’s bright beauty breeds curious thoughts; and golden gifts easily overcome wantons’ desires, with changing modesty into pastimes of vanity, and being once delighted therein, continues in the same without repentance. You are only the people’s wonder and misfortune’s bandying ball tossed up and down the world with woe upon woe. Yea, ten thousand woes will be galloping hard at your heels and pursue you wherever you go. For those of ill report cannot stay long in one place but roam and wander about the world, and yet ever unfortunate, prospering in nothing, forsaken and cast out from all civil companies, still in fear lest authority with the sword of Justice bar them of liberty. Lo, thus your lives are despised, walking like night Owls in misery, and no comfort shall be your friend, but only repentance coming too late and overdear bought: a penance and punishment due to all such hated creatures as these are.

Therefore believe, all you unmarried wantons, and in believing, grieve that you have thus unluckily made yourselves neither maidens, widows, nor wives, but more vile than filthier channel dirt fit to be swept out of the heart and suburbs of your Country. Oh, then suffer not this world’s pleasure to take from you the good thoughts of an honest life! But down, down upon your knees, you earthly Serpents, and wash away your black sin with the crystal tears of true sorrow and repentance, so that when you wander from this enticing world, you may be washed and cleansed from this foul leprosy of nature.

Lo, thus in remorse of mind my tongue has uttered to the wantons of the world the abundance of my heart’s grief, which I have perceived by the unseemly behavior of unconstant both men and women. Yet men for the most part are touched but with one fault, which is drinking too much, but it is said of women that they have two faults: that is, they can neither say well nor yet do well.

For commonly women are the most part of the forenoon painting themselves, and frizzling their hairs, and prying in their glass like Apes to prank up themselves in their gaudies: like Puppets, or like the Spider which weaves a fine web to hang the fly. Amongst women, she is accounted a slut which goes not in her silks. Therefore if you will please your Lady, you must like and love, sue and serve, and in spending you must lay on load. For they must have maintenance howsoever they get it, by hook or by crook, out of Judas’s bag or the Devil’s budget; you must spare neither lands nor living, money nor gold. . . .

CHAPTER III. This third Chapter shows a remedy against love, also many reasons not to be hasty in choice of a Wife. But if no remedy but you will marry, then how to choose a wife, with a Commendations of the good, virtuous, and honest women.

Be not hasty to marry, for doubt lest you marry in haste and repent by leisure. For there are many troubles which cometh galloping at the heels of a woman, which many young men beforehand do not think of. The world is not all made of oatmeal, nor all is not gold that glitters, nor a smiling countenance is no certain testimonial of a merry heart, nor the way to heaven is not strewed with rushes, no more is the cradle of ease in a woman’s lap. If you were a servant or in bondage before, yet when you marry, your toil is never the near ended. But even then and not before, you change your golden life which you did lead before, in respect of the married, for a drop of honey which quickly turns to be as bitter as wormwood. And therefore far better it were to have two plows going than one cradle, and better a barn filled than a bed; therefore cut off the occasion which may any way bring you into fool’s paradise. Then first and above all shun Idleness, for idleness is the beginner and maintainer of love. Therefore apply yourself about some affairs or occupied about some business, for so long as your mind or your body is in labor, the love of a woman is not remembered nor lust never thought upon. But if you spend your time idly amongst women, you are like unto him which plays with the Bee, who may sooner feel of her sting than taste of her honey. He that touches pitch may be defiled therewith. Roses unadvisedly gathered prickles our fingers; Bees ungently handled stings our faces. And yet the one is pleasant and the other is profitable. And if you be in company of women, the Devil himself has not more illusions to get men into his net than women have devices and inventions to allure men into their love. And if you suffer yourself once to be led into fool’s paradise (that is to say, the bed or closet wherein a woman is), then I say you are like a bird snared in a lime bush, which, the more she strives, the faster she is. It is impossible to fall amongst stones and not to be hurt, or amongst thorns and not be pricked, or amongst nettles and not be stung. A man cannot carry fire in his bosom and not burn his clothing; no more can a man live in love but it is a life as wearisome as hell, and he that marries a wife matches himself unto many troubles. If you marry a still and a quiet woman, that will seem to you that you ride but an ambling horse to hell, but if one that is froward and unquiet, then you were as good ride a trotting horse to the devil. Herein I will not be my own carver, but I refer you to the judgment of those which have seen the troubles and felt the torments. For none are better able to judge of women’s qualities than those which have them; none feels the hardness of the Flint but he that strikes it; none knows where the shoe pinches but he that wears it. It is said that a man should eat a bushel of Salt with one which he means to make his friend before he put any great confidence or trust in him. And if you be so long in choosing a friend, in my mind you had need to eat two bushels of Salt with a woman before you make her your wife; otherwise, before you have eaten one bushel with her, you shall taste of ten quarters of sorrow, and for every dram of pleasure an ounce of pain, and for every pint of honey a gallon of gall, and for every inch of mirth an ell of moan. In the beginning, a woman’s love seems delightful but ends with destruction; therefore he that trusts to the love of a woman shall be as sure as he that hangs by the leaf of a tree in the later end of Summer. . . .

It is said of men that they have that one fault, but of women it is said that they have two faults: that is to say, they can neither say well nor do well. There is a saying that goes thus: that things far fetched and dear bought are of us most dearly beloved. The like may be said of women; although many of them are not far fetched, yet they are dear bought, yea and so dear that many a man curses his hard pennyworths and bans his own heart. For the pleasure of the fairest woman in the world lasts but a honeymoon; that is, while a man has glutted his affections and reaped the first fruit, his pleasure being past, sorrow and repentance remaineth still with him.

Therefore to make you the stronger to strive against these tame Serpents, you shall have more strings to your bow than one; it is safe riding at two anchors. Always look before you leap lest your shins you chance to break. Now the fire is kindled; let us burn this other faggot and so to our matter again.

If a woman be never so comely, think her a counterfeit; if never so straight, think her crooked; if she be well set, call her a boss; if slender, a hazel twig; if brown, think her as black as a crow; if well colored, a painted wall; if sad or shamefaced, then think her a clown; if merry and pleasant, then she is the more likley to be a wanton. But if you be such a fool that you wilt spend your time and treasure, the one in the love of women and the other to delight them, in my mind you resembles the simple Indians, who apparel themselves most richly when they go to be burned.

But what should I say? Some will not give their babble for the Tower of London. He that has sailed at sea has seen the dangers, and he that is married can tell of his own woe, but he that was never burnt will never dread the fire. Some will go to dice although they see others lose all their money at play, and some will marry though they beg together. Is it not strange that men should be so foolish to dote on women, who differ so far in nature from men? For a man delights in arms and in hearing the rattling drums, but a woman loves to hear sweet music on the Lute, Cittern, or Bandore. A man rejoices to march among the murdered carcasses, but a woman to dance on a silken carpet; a man loves to hear the threatenings of his Prince’s enemies, but a woman weeps when she hears of wars. A man loves to lie on the cold grass, but a woman must be wrapped in warm mantles; a man triumphs at wars, but a woman rejoices more at peace.

If a man talk of any kind of beast or fowl, presently the nature is known, as for example: the Lions are all strong and hardy; the Hares are all fearful and cowardly; the Doves are all simple; and so of all beasts and fowl the like (I mean few or none swerving from his kind). But women have more contrary sorts of behavior than there be women, and therefore impossible for a man to know all, no, nor one part of women’s qualities all the days of your life.

Some with sweet words undermine their husbands, as Delilah did Samson, and some with chiding and brawling are made weary of the world, as Socrates and others. Socrates, when his wife did chide and brawl, would go out of the house till all were quiet again, but because he would not scold with her again, it grieved her the more. For on a time, she watched his going out and threw a chamber pot out of the window on his head. “Ha, ha!” said he, “I thought after all this thunder there would come rain.” . . .

As a sharp bit curbs a froward horse, even so a cursed woman must be roughly used, but if women could hold their tongues, then many times men would their hands. . . .

Now if you ask me how you should choose your wife, I answer that you have the whole world to make choice, and yet you may be deceived. An ancient Father, being asked by a young man how he should choose a wife, he answered him thus: “When you see a flock of maidens together, hoodwink yourself fast and run amongst them. And look which you choose; let her be your wife.” The young man told him that if he went blindfolded, he might be deceived. “And so you may,” said the old man, “if your eyes were open, for in the choice of your wife, you must not trust your own eyes. For they will deceive you and be the cause of your woe. For she may seem good whose waist is like a wand; or she which has a spider-fingered hand; or she which on her tiptoes still doth stand, and never read but in a golden book, nor will not be caught but with a golden hook; or such a one as can stroke a beard, or look a head, and of every flea make herself afraid. If you had a spring, such a wench would make him a beggar if he were half a King; then this is no bargain for you.” But hark a little further. The best time for a young man to marry is at the age of twenty and five, and then to take a wife of the age of seventeen years or thereabout, rather a maid than a widow, for a widow she is framed to the conditions of another man and can hardly be altered, so that your pains will be double. For you must unlearn a widow and make her forget and forgo her former corrupt and disordered behavior, the which is hardly to be done. But a young woman of tender years is flexible and bending, obedient, and subject to do anything according to the will and pleasure of her husband.

And if your state be good, marry near home and at leisure, but if your state be weak and poor, then to better yourself (after inquiry of her wealth and conditions) go far off and dispatch it quickly; for doubt lest tattling speeches which commonly in these cases runs betwixt party and party and breaks it off even then when it is come to the up¬shot. But as I have already said, before you put your foot out of doors, make diligent inquiry of her behavior, for by the market folk you shall hear how the market goes For by inquiry you shall hear whether she be wise, virtuous, and kind, wearing but her own proper hair and such garments as her friends’ estate will afford; or whether she love to keep within the house and to the servants have a watchful eye; or if she have a care when to spend and when to spare, and be content with what God doth send; or if she can shed no kind of unstained tears but when just cause of hearty sorrow is; and that in wealth and woe, in sickness and in health, she will be all alike. Such a wife will make you happy in your choice.

Although some happen on a devilish and unhappy woman, yet all men do not so, and such as happen ill, it is a warning to make them wise if they make a second choice. Not that all other shall have the like fortune: the sun shines upon the good and bad, and many a man happens sooner on a shrew than a ship. Some thrive by dicing, but not one in an hundredth; therefore dicing is ill husbandry. Some thrive by marriage, and yet many are undone by marriage, for marriage is either the making or marring of many a man. And yet I will not say but amongst dust there is a Pearl found, and in hard rocks, Diamonds of great value. And so amongst many women there are some good, as that gracious and glorious Queen of all womankind, the Virgin Mary, the mother of all bliss. What won her honor but an humble mind and her pains and love unto our Savior, Christ?

Sarah is commended for the earnest love that she bore to her husband, not only for calling him Lord, but for many other qualities; also Susanna, for her chastity and for creeping on her knees to please her husband. But there are meaner Histories which makes mention of many others, as that of Demetrias, how that she was content to run Lackey by her husband’s side.

Likewise, Lucretia, for the love and loyalty that she bore to her husband. Being unkindly abused by an unchaste lecher against her will, she presently slew herself in the presence of many rather than she would offer her body again to her husband, being but one time defiled. . . .

Saint Paul saith those which marry do well, but he also saith those which marry not do better. But yet also he saith that it is better to marry than to burn in lust. A merry companion, being asked by his friend why he did not marry, he made this answer and said that he had been in Bedlam two or three times and yet he was never so mad to marry. And yet there is no joy nor pleasure in the world which may be compared to marriage, so the parties are of near equal years and of good qualities. Then good fortune and bad is welcome to them; both their cares are equal and their joys equal. Come what will, all is welcome and all is common betwixt them. The husband doth honor and reverence her, and if he be rich, he commits all his goods to her keeping. And if he be poor and in adversity, then he beareth but the one half of the grief, and furthermore she will comfort him with all the comfortable means she can devise. And if he will stay solitary in his house, she will keep him company. If he will walk into the fields, why she will go with him, and if he be absent from home, she sighs often and wishes his presence. Being come home, he finds content sitting smiling in every corner of his house to give him a kind and hearty welcome home, and she receives him with the best and greatest joy that she can. Many are the joys and sweet pleasures in marriage, as in our children. Being young, they play, prattle, laugh, and shows us many pretty toys to move us to mirth and laughter; and when they are bigger grown and that age or poverty has afflicted the Parents, then they show the duty of children in relieving their old, aged parents with what they can shift for. And when their parents are dead, they bring them to the earth from whence they came.

Yet now consider on the other side: when a wrinkled and toothless woman shall take a beardless boy (a short tale to make of it), there can be no liking nor loving between such contraries, but continual strife and debate. So likewise when matches are made by the Parents and the dowry told and paid before the young couple have any knowledge of it (and so many times are forced against their minds, fearing the rigor and displeasure of their parents), they often promise with their mouths that which they refuse with their hearts. . . .

But these men are to be laughed at who, having a wife and a sufficient wife to do all the work within doors which belongs for a woman to do, yet the husband will set hens abrood, season the pot, and dress the meat, or any the like work which belongs not to the man. Such husbands many times offend their wives greatly, and they wrong themselves. For if they were employed abroad in matters belonging to men, they would be the more desirous, being come home, to take their ease than to trouble their wives and servants in meddling with their matters. For the rule and government of the house belongs to the wife.

And he that has a wife of his own and goes to another woman is like a rich thief which will steal when he has no need.

Amongst all the creatures that God has created, there is none more subject to misery than a woman, especially those that are fruitful to bear children, but they have scarce a month’s rest in a whole year, but are continually overcome with pain, sorrow, and fear. As indeed the danger of childbearing must needs be a great terror to a woman, which are counted but weak vessels in respect of men, and yet it is supposed that there is no disease that a man endures that is one half so grievous or painful as childbearing is to a woman. Let it be the toothache, gout, or colic: nay, if a man had all these at once, yet nothing comparable to a woman’s pain in her travail with child. . . .

Bearbaiting, or the Vanity of Widows, Take Your Pick

Woe be unto that unfortunate man that matches himself with a widow, for a widow will be the cause of a thousand woes. Yet there are many that do wish themselves no worse matched than to a rich widow. But you do not know what griefs you join with your gains, for if she be rich, she will look to govern, and if she be poor, then are you plagued both with beggary and bondage. Again, your pains will be double in regard of him which marries with a maid. For you must unlearn your widow and make her forget her former corrupt and disordered behavior; the which if you take upon you to do, you had even as good undertake to wash a Blackamoor white. For commonly widows are so froward, so waspish, and so stubborn that you can not wrest them from their wills. And if you think to make her good by stripes, you must beat her to death. One, having married with a froward widow, she called him these and many other unhappy names. So he took her and cut the tongue out of her head, but she ever afterwards would make the sign of the gallows with her fingers to him.

It is seldom or never seen that a man marries with a widow for her beauty nor for her personage, but only for her wealth and riches. And if she be rich and beautiful withal, then you match yourself to a she-devil, for she will go like a Peacock and you, like a Woodcock. For she will hide her money to maintain her pride, and if you at any time are desirous to be merry in her company, she will say you are merry because you have gotten a wife that is able to maintain you, where before you were a beggar and had nothing. And if you show yourself sad, she will say you are sad because you can not bury her, thereby to enjoy that which she has. If you make provision to fare well in your house, she will bid you spend that which you brought yourself.

If you show yourself sparing, she will say you shall not pinch her of that which is her own, and if you do anything contrary to her mind, she will say her other husband was more kind. If you chance to dine from home, she will bid you go sup with your Harlots abroad; if you go abroad and spend anything before you come home, she will say, “A beggar I found you, and a beggar you mean to leave me.” If you stay always at home, she will say you are happy that have gotten a wife that is able to maintain you idle. If you carve her the best morsel on the table, though she take it, yet she will take it scornfully and say she had a husband that would let her cut where she liked herself.

And if you come in well disposed, thinking to be merry and entreating her with fair words, she will call you dissembling hypocrite, saying, “you speak me fair with your tongue, but your heart is on your minions abroad.” Lo, these are the frantic tricks of froward widows. They are neither well full nor fasting; they will neither go to Church nor stay at home (I mean in regard of their impatient minds). For a man shall neither be quiet in her sight nor out of her sight. For if you be in her sight, she will vex you as beforesaid, and out of her sight, your own conscience will torment and trouble your mind to think on the purgatory which perforce you must endure when you come home.

She will make Clubs trump when you have never a black card in your hand, for with her cruel tongue she will ring you such a peal that one would think the devil were come from Hell. Besides this, you shall have a branded slut like a hell-hag with a pair of paps like a pair of dung pots shall bring in your dinner, for your widow will not trust you with a wench that is handsome in your house. Now if that upon just occasion you throw the platters at the maid’s head, seeing your meal brought in by such a slut and so sluttishly dressed, then will your widow take pepper in the nose and stamp and stare, and look so sour as if she had come but even then from eating of Crabs, saying, “If you had not married with me, you would have been glad of the worst morsel that is here.” . . .

you may think that I have spoken enough concerning Widows, but the further I run after them, the further I am from them. For they are the sum of the seven deadly sins, the Fiends of Satan, and the gates of Hell. Now methinks I hear some say unto me that I should have told them this lesson sooner, for too late cometh medicine when the patient is dead. Even so, too late cometh counsel when it is past remedy, but it is better late than never, for it may be a warning to make others wise.

But why do I make so long a harvest of so little corn? Seeing the corn is bad, my harvest shall cease, for so long as women do ill, they must not think to be well spoken of. If you would be well reported of or kept like the Rose when it has lost the color, then you should smell sweet in the bud as the Rose doth, or if you would be tasted for old wine, you should be sweet at the first like a pleasant Grape. Then should you be cherished for your courtesy and comforted for your honesty; so should you be preserved like the sweet Rose and esteemed of as pleasant wine. But to what purpose do I go about to instruct you, knowing that such as counsel the devil can never amend him of his evil?

And so, praying those which have already made their choice and seen the troubles and felt the torments that is with women to take it merrily and to esteem of this book only as the toys of an idle head.

Nor I would not have women murmur against me for that I have not written more bitterly against men, for it is a very hard winter when one Wolf eat another; and it is also an ill bird that defiles her own nest; and a most unkind part it were for one man to speak ill of another.