Extract from Widow Edith

Detail from William Caxton's
The Fables of Poge the Floretyn

The widow Edith XII merry gests of one called Edith the lying widow which yet still liveth was first published in 1525. It is a witty misogynistic piece that recounts the various adventures of its eponymous hero. The character of Edith reflects a tension that is found in a number of early Tudor representations of strong females. Edith is mocked throughout the poem. She is depicted as venal, bawdy and entirely untrustworthy. At the same time Widow Edith is a celebration of female resourcefulness and wit. Edith constantly gets the better of those in authority, and in particular men.

XII. mery Iests, of the wyddow Edyth,

This lying widow, false and craftie,
Late in England, hath deceiued many:
Both men and women of euery degree,
As wel of the Spiritual, as temporaltie
Lordes, Knights, and Gentlemen also:
Yemen, Groomes, & that not long ago,
For in the time of King Henry the eight
She hath vsed many a suttle sleight,
What with lieng, weepyng & laughyng
Dissemblyng, boastyng, and flatteryng,
As by this Booke hereafter doth appere
Who so list the matter now for to here:
No fayned Stories, but matters in deed
Of. xii. of her Iestes, here may ye reede.
Now newly printed, this present yeare,
For such as delite, mery Iests for to here.

The tenth mery Iest, how this Wydow Edyth deceiued three yong men of Chelsay that were seruants to syr Thomas More, and were all thrée suters vnto her for Maryage: and what mischaunce happened vnto her.

At Chelsay was her ariuall,
Where she had best cheare of all:
In the house of syr Thomas More

After that she had tolde of her store
And of her hauyour and credence eke,
There was nothing for her to seeke
That could make her mery other euyn or morow
I pray to God now geue her sorow.

At Eltham she sayd that she dyd dwell,
And of her substance there she gan to tell:
Two wolsted Lomes she had by her fay,
And two Mills that went night and day:
A Beere brewhouse in which euery week once
Twenty quarters were brewed al at once,
Fowre Plowes she kept, the earth to cultiue,
And. xv. great knaues to help her to thriue.
Seauen women seruants ye wull to spin & carde,
And to mylke the kyne abroad in the yarde
She recounted her famyly & houssholde so great,
That three yong men she cast in a heat
Which seruants were in the same place,
And all they woed her a good pace.
By meanes I tel you and by brocage,
They sware they wolde be all her owne page:
One of them had to name Thomas Croxton,
And seruant he was to master Alengton
A man I tell you in whom dame nature,
Had don her part as in stature:
He was mighty chyned, with boanes stronge,
Shoulders broade, and armes longe.
Very actiue and apt to euery thyng,
Able to serue any Prynce or Kyng,
As for his person and conditions withall
But there is a poynt least that for parciall
I should be holden: because he is my frend
Wherfore of his prayse here I make an end:
And somwhat I will tel of his woyng.

To his master & mistris, he was gretly beholdig
For busy sute they made night and day,
In his cause if I shall the sooth say:

And he him selfe was full seruiseable,
To this wydow at dinner and at the table:
And eke at supper he stoode ay at her back,
So neare that and if she had let a crack.
Neuer so styll he must haue had knowledge,
But all is honycombe he was in such dotage

Whertu a little while, I let him dwell,
And of the seconde woer I shall you tell.
Which had to name Thomas Arthur,
And seruant he was to master Roper.
A proper man neither to hye nor to low,
But Dame nature sothely as I trow:
Referred his gift vnto Dame grace,
Desiring her to consider the case
Concerning this man, and that she wolde
[Send] to him with verteous maners manifolde
And no doubt she was therin nothing slacke

Peace no more he standeth at my backe.
And yf he here me praise him, he wil wene I flatter.
Therfore I wyl resort to former matter.
And tel of his woyng partly as it was,
And what [illeg.] he had by gods grace.
His owne Master and Mistris also,
With other beside, I cannot tel who.
That laboured for him incessantly
And his owne selfe I tel you truly:
Was not necligent ne lost no time,
But gaue attendaunce from morning to prime,
And the after none with part of the night,
In her chamber the candels he did light:
And tymbred her fyres in the chymney,
And can ye finde in your hart he wold say,
To loue me swete hart best of all?
Yes quod she, but I wyll not tell you all,
What my hart thinketh as now,
But Thomas against to morow I pray you
That you wyll get you leaue to ryde with me,
As far as Braynford and there ye shall se
Some money receyued els it is yll,
But I wold we had one that this cup wold fil,
With Malmesey that we might drink to bed ward

Whip quod Thomas and got him down ward
And commeth agayne with the cup full,
Drink Wydow quod he a good pull
And when ye see your time get you to rest
He haue you in his keping that may keepe you best,
Adew quod she, and farewell till to morow,
Here is good Malmesey els god geue me sorow.

On the next day Thomas rode with this wydow,
As far as Braynford and I shall tel you how:
And what chere they made by the way as they rod
Thomas right well his horse bestrode
A full fayre styrrop out at the long.
His horse was a beast goodly and strong:
And beare them both easely away,
And styll wolde stand while Thomas did say
Let me kis you darling, turne your face hether
Be it quod she, ere that we wend farther:
And thus the passe the time as they ride
To Braynford where they did not long abyde:
For shortly to Thomas she gan then tell,
Her debtour was gon to Kingston to dwel.

Thomas began for to muse of the matter,
And there then priuely he dyd inquere:
Of the goodman of the house wher his horse stoode
Which knew her right well & sware by the roode
She lied in euery thing that she dyd say,
Then quod Thomas to him selfe a syrra, a syrra.
Is this the matter in very deede?

Home ward he caryed her with good speede,
To Chelsay againe where she was vsed
As she was before and holden excused:

Thomas kept al this within his owne brest
Because his felows should not at him iest.
And in her chamber the next night folowing
There was the reuell and the gossupping
The generall bumming as Marget Giggs sayde
Euery body laughed, and was well apayde:
Two of her woers being there present.
Thomas Arthur when he saw his time went
And sate him downe in a chayre solemply
And sayd nothing but now and then an eye:
He cast at his loue, as she stoode at the Cubord,

When she perceiued she spake nere a word.
But stept vnto him and kissed him sweet,
Saying how is it with you, I pray you let me weet.

Thomas answered on this world I think
Cut a straw quod she, take the cup and drink.
Therwith she imbraced him be mery sweet hart
She turned her arse in his lap, & let a great fart,
And I loued you not quod she I wold not geue you this
Ha ha quod Thomas, ye be a mery one twis

They laughed on a row that som of them shoke,
The Wydow desired the court to be broke
And ech wight to his bed to repayre.

The morow was Sunday and the wether fayr.
This Wydow determined her selfe to walk,
As far as Haly well, for she hard men talke:
That there should be a sister that day professed,
And to offer with her she was disposed:
Desiring the yong Nunne with her sisters all,
To pray for her to the hie God immortall
That it shal please him of his aboundant grace,
In the end of this world, that away from his face:
She ne should be seperate in any wise,
To Holy well she walked and once or twise
She drank or she came there, for the way was long

The Nuns in the quyre had begon their song:
In the hye masse & Bels gyn to ryng,

When the wydow approched to make her offering
After the Gospel her purse she toke in hand:
And serched therin, but nothin she fand.
A syde she cast her eye and anon was ware,
Of Thomas Croxton at Chelsay her first woer,
To whom she sayd I pray you lend me fast,
Some white mony that I might offer in hast,
Or els chaunge me a noble quod she anon

Thomas Croxton looked her vpon
And sayd sweet hart ye shal chaunge no Golde
At this time: I haue money inough, holde.
How much wyll steede you, say on, lets see.

Xii. pence I pray you, delyuer vnto me,
Quod she than, and see it be in Grotes,
For I wyll offer. xl. pence, because of reportes,
And I might once get home, I wold not care for money

When she had offered the sooth to say,
She romed in the Cloyster too and fro,
Tyll a yong man saw where she dyd go,
And water Smyth was this yongmans name,
One of her wowers, and I might tell for shame,

A, thought Water, now here is good place,
To speake of my matter, and to shew the case
Now it standeth with mee, and also to be playne.

Softly he walketh this wydow agayne
And fyrst hayled her as him thought meete,
Then toke her in his armes and kissed her swete
She knew him wel inough for he was one of the three
That I told you before dwelt in Chelsay

This Water his tale gan for to tell
Wydow quod he take keepe and mark well,
What I shal to you say without dissimulation:
I can no lenger mew mine hartely affection.
Ne inclose the secrets of my trew minde,
But to you I must breke trustyng ye wilbe kinde
Syrcumstance voydyng because I cannot suiurne
Long with you at this time, but I must returne
From whence I come, therfore to you anon
Among all your suters I pretend to be one.
Now Wydow looke well vpon me quod he,
And yf you can finde in your hart to loue me:
As wel sweet darlyng as I loue you,
Than I trust there shalbe such seeds sow
Betwyxt vs both that it shalbe principally
To Gods pleasaunce and to our comfort secondly

Then the Wydow answered with a smiling chere
And sayd goodman Water I pray you tel me here
Whether ye meane good sadnes or els that ye iest,

I thinke as I speake so god my soule rest.
Quod Water therfore shew vnto me
That I shalbe excepted, or els that I am not he
I am a yong woer and dare not speake for shame
But yet to loue vnloued ye know it is no game,

Troth ye say quod she, I affyrme the same
And if I loue you not again in faith I am to blame
When I come next to Chelsay ye shal wel find
That afore all other I beare you my good mynd
A Crucifyx quod she of the pure Golde
Which many a day hath remayned in my holde,
Ye shal haue it for a token and a remembrance.

Then Water stode on tipto & gan him self avance
I thank you quod he euen with all my hart,
He kissed her deliciously, and then dyd depart.


Picture from William Caxton, Here begynneth the book of the subtyl historyes and fables of Esope whiche were translated out of Frensshe in to Englysshe by wylham Caxton at westmynstre in the yere of oure Lorde M. CCCC. xxxiij (Westmynstre, 1498).


Walter Smith, 'The Widow Edyth' in Shakespeare Jest-Books, ed. W. Carew Hazlitt (London, 1864), p. 29, pp.75-84