The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre

the Young Man Beating his Wife
The Young Man beating his Wife

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Tale xlvi.(B).

Concerning a Grey Friar who made it a great crime on the part of husbands to beat their wives. 1

In the town of Angoulême, where Count Charles, father of King Francis, often abode, there dwelt a Grey Friar named De Vallès, 2 the same being a learned man and a very great preacher. At Advent time this Friar preached in the town in presence of the Count, whereby his reputation was still further increased.

1 This is the tale inserted in Gruget’s edition in lieu of the previous one. — Ed.

2 We had thought that Friar Vallès might possibly be Robert de Valle, who at the close of the fifteenth century wrote a work entitled Explanatio in Plinium, but find that this divine was a Bishop of Rouen, and never belonged to the Grey Friars. In Gessner’s Biographia Universalis, continued by Frisius, mention is made of three learned ecclesiastics of the name of Valle living in or about Queen Margaret’s time: Baptiste de Valle, who wrote on war and duelling; William de Valle, who penned a volume entitled De Anima Sorbono; and Amant de Valle, a Franciscan minorité born at Toulouse, who was the author of numerous philosophical works, the most important being Elucidationes Scoti. — B. J.

It happened also that during Advent a hare-brained young fellow, who had married a passably handsome young woman, continued none the less to run at the least as dissolute a course as did those that were still bachelors. The young wife, being advised of this, could not keep silence upon it, so that she very often received payment after a different and a prompter fashion than she could have wished. For all that, she ceased not to persist in lamentation, and sometimes in railing as well; which so provoked the young man that he beat her even to bruises and blood. Thereupon she cried out yet more loudly than before; and in a like fashion all the women of the neighbourhood, knowing the reason of this, could not keep silence, but cried out publicly in the streets, saying —

“Shame, shame on such husbands! To the devil with them!”

By good fortune the Grey Friar De Vallès was passing that way and heard the noise and the reason of it. He resolved to touch upon it the following day in his sermon, and did so. Turning his discourse to the subject of marriage and the affection which ought to subsist in it, he greatly extolled that condition, at the same time censuring those that offended against it, and comparing wedded to parental love. Among other things, he said that a husband who beat his wife was in more danger, and would have a heavier punishment, than if he had beaten his father or his mother.

“For,” said he, “if you beat your father or your mother you will be sent for penance to Rome; but if you beat your wife, she and all the women of the neighbourhood will send you to the devil, that is, to hell. Now look you what a difference there is between these two penances. From Rome a man commonly returns again, but from hell, oh! from that place, there is no return: nulla est redemptio3

After preaching this sermon, he was informed that the women were making a triumph of it, 4 and that their husbands could no longer control them. He therefore resolved to set the husbands right just as he had previously assisted their wives.

3 This was the Pope’s expression apropos of Messer Biagio, whom Michael Angelo had introduced into his “Last Judgment." — M.

4 The French expression is faisaient leur Achilles, the nearest equivalent to which in English would probably be “Hectoring” It is curious that the French should have taken the name of Achilles and we that of Hector to express the same idea of arrogance and bluster. — Ed.

With this intent, in one of his sermons he compared women and devil together, saying that these were the greatest enemies that man had, that they tempted him without ceasing, and that he could not rid himself of them, especially of women.

“For,” said he, “as far as devils are concerned, if you show them the cross they flee away, whereas women, on the contrary, are tamed by it, and are made to run hither and thither and cause their husbands countless torments. But, good people, know you what you must do? When you find your wives afflicting you thus continually, as is their wont, take off the handle of the cross and with it drive them away. You will not have made this experiment briskly three or four times before you will find yourselves the better for it, and see that, even as the devil is driven off by the virtue of the cross, so can you drive away and silence your wives by virtue of the handle, provided only that it be not attached to the cross aforesaid.”

“You have here some of the sermons by this reverend De Vallès, of whose life I will with good reason relate nothing more. However, I will tell you that, whatever face he put upon the matter — and I knew him — he was much more inclined to the side of the women than to that of the men.”

“Yet, madam,” said Parlamente, “he did not show this in his last sermon, in which he instructed the men to ill-treat them.”

“Nay, you do not comprehend his artifice,” said Hircan. “You are not experienced in war and in the use of the stratagems that it requires; among these, one of the most important is to kindle strife in the camp of the enemy, whereby he becomes far easier to conquer. This master monk well knew that hatred and wrath between husband and wife most often cause a loose rein to be given to the wife’s honour. And when that honour frees itself from the guardianship of virtue, it finds itself in the power of the wolf before it knows even that it is astray.”

“However that may be,” said Parlamente, “I could not love a man who had sown such division between my husband and myself as would lead even to blows; for beating banishes love. Yet, by what I have heard, they [the friars] can be so mincing when they seek some advantage over a woman, and so attractive in their discourse, that I feel sure there would be more danger in hearkening to them in secret than in publicly receiving blows from a husband in other respects a good one.”

“Truly,” said Dagoucin, “they have so revealed their plottings in all directions, that it is not without reason that they are to be feared; 5 although in my opinion persons who are not suspicious are worthy of praise.”

5 From this point the dialogue is almost word for word the same as that following Tale XLVI. (A). — Ed.

“At the same time,” said Oisille, “people ought to suspect the evil that is to be avoided, for it is better to suspect an evil that does not exist than by foolish trustfulness to fall into one that does. For my part, I have never known a woman deceived by being slow to believe men’s words, but many are through being too prompt in giving credence to falsehood. Therefore I say that possible evil cannot be too strongly suspected by those that have charge of men, women, cities or states; for, however good may be the watch that is kept, wickedness and treachery are prevalent enough, and for this reason the shepherd who is not vigilant will always be deceived by the wiles of the wolf.”

“Still,” said Dagoucin, “a suspicious person cannot have a perfect friend, and many friends have been parted by bare suspicion.”

“If you should know any such instance,” thereupon said Oisille, “I will give you my vote that you may relate it.”

“I know one,” said Dagoucin, “which is so strictly true that you will hear it with pleasure. I will tell you, ladies, when it is that close friendship is most readily broken off; it is when the security of friendship begins to give place to suspicion. For just as to trust a friend is the greatest honour one can do him, so is doubt of him the greatest dishonour, inasmuch as it proves that he is deemed other than one would have him to be, and in this wise many close friendships are broken off and friends turned into foes. This you will see from the story that I am now about to relate.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09