From The Brideling, Sadling, and Ryding of a rich Churle (1594)
The following is an extract from The Bachelor’s Banquet by Thomas Dekker. Published in 1603, Dekker’s entertaining pamphlet explores the numerous ways in which a typical wife makes her husband’s existence a living hell, but hen-picked spouses aside, the real joy is in the illuminating detail of daily life in the early seventeenth century, and in the contemporaneous dialogue. What follows here is an account of the wearying role of a husband during a wife’s pregnancy.
When her husband sees her belly to grow big, this breedes him new cares and troubles, for then must he trot up and downe day and night, farre and neare, to get with great cost that [which] his wife longs for: if she let fall but a pin, he is diligent to take it up, least she by stouping should hurt her selfe. She on the other side is so hard to please. And oft times through ease and plentie she growes so queasie stomackt, that she can brooke no common meates, but longs for strange and rare things, which whether they be to be had or no, yet she must have them there is no remedie. She must have Cherries, though for a pound he pay ten shillings, or greene Peascods at foure Nobles a pecke: he must take a horse, and ride into the Countrey, to get her greene Codlings (apples), when they are scarcely so big as a scotch button. In this trouble and vexation of mind and body, lives the silly man for five or seven moneths, all which time his wife doth nothing but complaine, and hee poore soule takes all the care, rising earely, going late to bed, and to be short, is faine to play both the husband and huswife. But when the time drawes neere of her lying downe, then must he trudge to get Gossips, such as she will appoint, or else all the fatte is in the fire.
Consider then what cost and trouble it will be to him, to have all things fine against the Christning day, what store of Sugar, Biskets, Comphets (comfits, a sweetmeat made with fruit and sugar) and Carawapes (confection), Marmalet (quince jelly) and marchpane, with all kind of sweete suckets, and superstitious banqueting stuffe, with a hundred other odde and needlesse trifles, which at that time must fill the pockets of daintie dames. Besides the charge of the midwife, she must have her nurse to attend and keepe her, who must make for her warme broaths, and costly cawdels (a type of gruel mixed with wine or beer given to the sick), enough both for her selfe and her mistresse, being of the minde to fare no worse then she. If her mistresse be fedde with partridge, plover, woodcocks, quailes, or any such like, the nurse must be partner with her in all these dainties. Neither yet will that suffice, but during the whole moneth she privily pilfers away the sugar and ginger, with all other spices that comes under her keeping, putting the poore man to such expence, that in a whole yeare he can scarcely recover that one moneths charges.
Then every day after her lying downe will sundry dames visit her, which are her neighbours, her kinswomen, and other her speciall acquaintance, whom the good man must welcome with all cheerefulnesse, and be sure there be some dainties in store to set before them: where they about some three or foure houres (or possible halfe a day) will sit chatting with the Child-wife, and by that time the cups of wine have merily trold about, and halfe a dozen times moystned their lips with the sweet juyce of the purple grape.
Here Dekker pauses to reveal the sort of gossip the women in the bedchamber exchange:
They begin thus one with another to discourse; Good Lord neighbour, I marvaile how our gossip Frees doth, I have not seene the good soule this many a day. Ah God helpe her, quoth another, for she hath her hands full of worke, and her heart full of heavinesse. While she drudges all the weeke at home, her husband, like an unthrift, never leaves running abroad to the Tennis court, and Dicing houses, spending all that ever he hath in such lewd sort. And if that were the worst it is well. But heare you, Gossip, there is another matter spoyles all, he cares no more for his wife then for a dog, but keepes queanes (prostitutes) even under her nose. Jesu! saith another, who would thinke he were such a man, he behaves himselfe so orderly and civilly, to all mens sights? Then the third fetching a great sigh says, I pray you tell me one thing, when saw you our friend mistresse O? Now in good she is a kind creature, and a very gentle. I promise you I saw her not since you and I dranke a pinte of wine with her in the fish market. O, saith the other, There is a great change since that time, for they have bene faine to pawne all that ever they have, and yet God knowes her husband lies still in prison.
The gossips having left the house, the saintly husband finally returns home:
Hee having bene forth to provide such meates as shee would have, he commeth home (perhappes at midnight,) and before hee sitteth downe to rest himselfe, hath a very earnest desire to knowe how his Wife doth. He asketh the Chamber-maide, or else the Nurse, how his Wife doeth: they answere, shee is very ill at ease, and that since his departure shee tasted not one bit of meate, but that towards the Evening she beganne to be a little better, all which be meere Lies. But the Poore-man hearing these wordes, grieves not a little, though he be weary and wet, having gone a long journey through a filthie way. Yet will he neither eate or drinke, nor (so much as once sit downe) till he have seene his Wife. Then the prattling Idle Nurse beginnes to looke verie heavily, and to sigh inwardly as though her Mistresse had bene that day at the point of Death, which he seeing, he was more earnest to visit his wife: whom at the entrance of the Chamber, he heares lye groaning to her selfe. Comming to the Beds side, [he] kindly sits downe by her, saying How now my sweet heart, how doest thou?Ah Husband (saith she) I am very ill, nor was I ever so sicke in my life as I have bene this day. Alas good soule (saith he) I am the more sorrie to heare it. I pray thee tell mee where lies thy paine? Ah Husband (quoth she) you know I have been weake a long time, and not able to eate any thing. But Wife (quoth he) why did you not cause the Nurse to boyle you a Capon, and make a messe of good Broath for you? So shee did (saith his wife) as well as she could, but it did not like me, and by that meanes I have eaten nothing since the broath which your selfe made me: Oh me thought that was excellent good.
Marry, Wife (saith he) I will presently make you some more of the same, and you shall eate it for my sake. With all my hart good Husband (saith shee) and I shall thinke my selfe highly beholding unto you. Then trudgeth hee into the Kitchin; there playes hee the Cook, burning and broyling himselfe over the fire, having his eyes ready to be put out with smoake. While hee is busie making the Broath, hee chides with his Maides, calling them beasts and baggages, that knowes not how to doe any thing, not so much as make a little broath for a sicke body but he must be faine to doe it him selfe. Then comes downe Mistris Nurse as fine as a farthing Fiddle, in her petticoate and Kirtle, having on a white wast-coate, with a Flaunting cambricke ruffe about her necke, who like a Doctris in Facultie, comes thus upon him: Good Lord Sir, what paines you take, here is no bodie can please our Mistresse but your selfe: I will assure you (on my credite) that I doe what I can, yet for my life, I cannot in any way content her. Moreover, here came in Mistresse Cot. and Mistresse Con. who did both of them what they could to have your Wife eate something. Nevertheless, all that they did could not make her taste one spoonefull of any thing all this live-long day. I know not what she ailes, I have kept manie Women in my time, but I never knewe any so weake as shee is; I (quoth he) you are a companie of cunning Cookes, that cannot make a little Broath as it should be.
And by this time the broath being ready, hee brings it straight to his Wife, comforting her with many kind words, praying her to eate for his sake, or to taste a spoonefull or twaine, which she doth, commending it to the Heavens, affirming also that the Broath which the others made had no good taste in the world, and was nothing worth. The good man hereof beeing not a little proude, biddes them make goode in his Wife’s chamber, charging them to tend her well. And having given this direction, hee gettes himselfe to Supper, with some colde meate set before him, such as the Gossips left, or his Nurse could spare, and having this short pittance hee goes to Bedde full of care.
From The Merry Cuckhold (1629)
If you enjoyed this, you may like another extract from The Bachelor’s Banquet, an argument between husband and wife over clothes and money, which you can find here